Thursday, January 26, 2012

Selection from Silent Sonata

July 30th - J. Larson High School for the Arts - New York City, NY - 2026 

“Lexie can you play the sonata again?” Pemberley asks. She checks her reflection in the mirror, tucking a loose strand of her brown hair back behind her ear. “I want to do that section again.”

“Sure Pember,” I say, flipping the pages back of the piano music. “Ready when you are.”

Pemberley nods to me and I begin to play Moonlight Sonata while my best friend rises up on her toes and begins to dance. Pemberley dances with such grace it’s a wonder she hasn’t been scooped up by a professional company yet. Pemberley has been dancing longer than she’s been walking. Her bedroom is filled with posters from productions she has seen and been in. Programs from ballets and operas her dads have taken her to fill scrapbooks. She has an autograph book filled with signatures of dancers from the American Ballet Theatre. Pemberley Caitlin Stavros eats, sleeps and dreams ballet. There are days that if I didn’t play the piano for her, I’d never see her. 

“Ugh!” Pemberley sighs in frustration. “I am never going to get this turn right!” She slumps to the polished hardwood floor muttering to herself. “Why do we have to audition for this school anyway. Ithaca got in without an audition.” The high ceiling of the rehearsal room at Jonathan Larson High School for the Arts, echoed her complaint. While the room lacked proper acoustics for my taste, it was suitable for Pemberley’s practice space. 

A long time ago, Jonathan Larson High School for the Arts was the easiest arts school to get in to. Ithaca used to say it was like all someone had to do was walk in and they were accepted. Now Larson is the hardest arts school to get in to. Singers, songwriters, actors, dancers, authors, painters, sculptors, classically trained musicians and even magicians and ventriloquists were welcome at Larson. Larson has turned out just as many classically trained musicans and dancers as Julliard. 

Out of all my sisters, I am the only one who has followed in Dad’s footsteps to take on the music world. Memory’s the genius law student, Ithaca was the writer and Ada was going to be an international spy. We’re all so different and yet so very much alike in a lot of ways. 

“Do you think the admissions committee will let us audition together?” Pemberley asks, when we finish the piece. “You’re playing Moonlight Sonata and I’m dancing to it.”

“I don’t know Pember,” I say. “You’re only dancing to the first movement whereas I’m playing the third. It may be the kind of thing where each department selects for itself. We won’t know until we get there. Do you want to go over it one more time?”

“Do you mind?”

“I need the practice on the third movement anyway,” I say.

“I don’t Beethoven himself can play it better,” Pemberley says, swinging her long leg up behind her. “You worry too much.”

“And you don’t worry enough.”

“Just play.”

I flip my sheet music back to the beginning and start playing. I can’t get over how graceful Pemberley is. When she’s dancing she’s in this zone where nothing else matters. All she can think about is the next step in the choreography. We finish and she looks over at me, her slender hands on her hips. I look up at the clock and notice our hour of rehearsal space use is up. “And that’s time.” 

As we are leaving the practice rooms at Larson we pass another occupied piano room. A boy with short reddish-brown hair is sitting at the grand piano. He’s playing in my opinion the hardest Mozart sonata, number 18. Mozart wrote that it was supposed to be easy but it’s horrible. The boy’s fingers fly over the with such ease it makes me really self-conscious about my own piece. 

“Wow! Who’s that?” Pemberley says, peeking over my shoulder. “He’s really good.”

“I know.” We look into the room and watch the boy practice. There is another man standing on the other side of the piano. A metronome sits in view of the boy, ticking back and fourth to the time of the music. He finishes the piece and Pemberley and I applaud from our spot in the door. The boy doesn’t turn to acknowledge us. The other man waves his hands around and the boy turns and smiles widely at us. 

“That was amazing,” I say. “You’re really good. I can’t even play that sonata.”

The man waves his hands again and the boys laughs. It finally dawned on me. He’s deaf. The boy motions again and the other man says, “Thank you.”

“I’m Lexie Porter and this is my friend Pemberley Stavros,” I say introducing us to the boy. His interpreter signs to him. The boy begins signing quickly. 

“I’m Greg Paulson,” the interpreter says. “I’m Gavin Olson.” He signs Greg’s name by tapping his left shoulder with his right thumb and index finger slightly ajar. Gavin then signs his name with the same hand position but touches his nose. 

Greg starts to sign again and Gavin translates. “Are you both auditioning next week too?” 

“Yes we are,” I say. “I am trying for one of the piano spots. But after watching you I don’t think I’m nearly good enough.”

Greg smiles again and keeps signing. His smile is infectious. Gavin laughs and tells us what Greg has said. “I haven’t heard you play but I’m sure you’re really good too. What about you Pemberley?”

“I’m a dancer. Classical ballet.”

“My mother used to dance,” Greg says, through Gavin. “She was really good.”

“We were on our way out to grab a bite to eat,” Pemberley says. “Would you like to join us?”

“We can’t. Greg’s mother expects him home,” Gavin says. “Maybe next time.”

We walk together out of the building and out onto the corner of Avenue C and 9th Street. The nice part about Larson is that it is so close to my apartment. Jett’s original store is on Avenue B and our loft is on 7th Street and Avenue C. We walk home and my stomach rumbles. I start to walk towards Theatre CafĂ©. 

“Wait, we can’t go eat. Daddy’s making dinner!” Pemberley says, suddenly. 

Typical Pemberley. If the fate of the world relied on her remembering to give a message to the President, we would be doomed. I shake my head. “Pemberley, how do you remember all your choreography?”

“Shut up,” she says. “Daddy says I have a selective memory.”

“You only remember the things you want to remember,” I say. “Just like Tricky.”

She makes a face at me and sticks out her tongue. I shake my head and keep walking towards our building. Posters for shows are plastered all over the fence and abandoned building. Underneath a peeling section is a name I recognize. Max Porter: Live at the Bowery Ballroom. I walk over to the posters and carefully pull away the poster covering Dad’s. The date on Dad’s poster is October 25th, 1992. I carefully pull the poster down and roll it up. Every time I find something vintage of my dad’s music career I pick it up and add it to my collection. So far I have found eleven posters, a few vinyl albums, cassette tapes and concert t-shirts. Occasionally I’ll come across posters for Tricky’s old magic shows and I’ll save them also. It’s cool for me to see where my dad has been in his career. I like seeing the photos from the late 80’s and early 90’s, back before he was selling out stadiums and arenas. I was ten when he did his last concert at Madison Square Garden. His manager and label have been bugging him to tour again. 

“Daddy said Uncle Max is thinking about touring again,” Pemberley says, as she pulls open the door to our building. 

“Well Dad said he’ll tour again if they get him his own plane,” I say. The likelihood of Capitol Records buying Dad a plane was like Fitz finding a cure for AIDS. It just wasn’t going to happen. “The man is going to be 60 in two years. He can’t do the bus thing anymore.”

Despite both of our families having more money than we know what to do with, we live humbly. The biggest purchase my family has made in the last sixteen years was the loft next door. Bur for the most part, the money that comes in, goes into a savings account at Chase Manhattan. Dad, Tricky and Jett say that because they were all struggling, starving artists they want to remain humble.  

My dad and uncles’ fame is another thing we have to deal with on a regular basis. Ithaca had a good attitude about them. She would give them answers and would pose for the pictures. Fitz on the other hand would make faces at them. The paparazzi once caught her with someone other than Fitz one time and the headline read “Has Ithaca Porter found a new man?” She and Fitz had a good laugh about it. One of the tabloids went after Dad one year claiming he was cheating with one of his back-up vocalists. There is one thing you don’t ever mess with and that is my parents’ marriage. 

“Anybody home?” I call into the loft, setting my keys in the bowl. “Mom? Dad?”

“Eiiee!” a voice shouts from the kitchen. 

“Daddy?” Pemberley questions. “What are you doing?”

We look around the corner and see not Jett but Tricky trying to cook. There are three things that Tricky Howard is not allowed to be anywhere near: Fire, matches or the stove. He was currently breaking two of those three things. Tricky has the ability to burn water. It’s something he, Dad and Fitz have in common.

“Uncle Tricky, what are you doing?” I ask.

“Stirring the sauce,” he says. “I’m helping Jett.”

“Does Daddy know you’re helping?” Pemberley asks. 


“Philip Xavier Howard, get your ass out of my kitchen before you burn it down!” Jett orders, coming into the kitchen from the other loft. 

Tricky slinks away sheepishly out of the kitchen and back into the living room. He and Jett exchange glances in which Jett glares and Tricky cowers. Pember and I know it’s just an act. You can’t be with someone for almost fifty years without creating some sort of inside jokes.  

“How was your practice session girls?” Tricky asks, from the safety of the couch. 

“I think I’m ready,” I answer, sneaking a peek into the pot on the stove. My hand is whacked with a pair of tongs. “That was until I heard a fellow applicant play.”

“What about you Pember?” Tricky asks his child. “Are all those hours and thousands of dollars we spent on ballet going to pay off?”

“Dad,” Pemberley says, with a soft whine. “I am the best ballerina Larson has ever seen. They will be idiots to not accept me.”

“That’s my girl. When are the other parents getting home?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” I answer, taking a bottle of water out of our ancient fridge. Pictures cover our fridge. There are pictures on the fridge that have been their since Tricky and Jett first moved into the loft. Pictures of me and my sisters at various ages. Mom, Dad, Ithaca and Ada at Disney World. Mom, Dad, Memory and I in Paris. Tricky, Jett and Pemberley outside the Met. 

“What’s for dinner?” a voice calls from the door of the second loft. “I have two hours before I go on-call for the next forty-eight.”

My brother-in-law Fitz came into the main living area of both lofts. Whenever he feels like it, which was almost every other night, he has his meals with us. He has his own apartment on Columbus but he’s never there. Mom is always fussing at him to just sell it and take the spare room in the second loft. Mom says there’s something about our loft that always has everyone coming back to it. Tricky, Jett and Pemberley technically live on Fifth Avenue but are here more than they are there. Once school starts again Pemberley says she’d move back to her old room so she can be within walking distance of Larson. The only member of my family that has managed to stay away for longer than a week is my sister Memory. She went away to college and only comes back when she’s low on groceries, which isn’t very often. If I want to see my sister I’ll go to her apartment near the Columbia campus. 

“Don’t you have your own place?” Jett asks Fitz as he plops down on the couch next to Tricky. His long legs kick out, knocking over a stack of fashion magazines. 

“Yeah, but you’re closer to the hospital,” Fitz answers. “Besides Jett, you cook better than I do.”

“It’s a wonder you and Ithaca survived as long as you did while you were in California,” Jett answers. “There wasn’t a day when Ith wasn’t calling about how to cook something.”

“The elderly lady next door took pity on us when she saw the pizza boxes piling up,” Fitz says, snagging the remote from Tricky. He flipped the channel to the Mets game. It is a cardinal sin to root for the Yankees in my family. Dad says Fitz learned that the hard way when he was ejected from the loft for an hour when he uttered the phrase “Go Yankees!”

“Fitz, don’t you have your own apartment to go to?” Tricky asks, stealing the remote back.

“Yeah but this place is better. Good food, good friends. Besides all I have at home is a few bottles of Yoo-Hoo and Cheerios.”

“You put Yoo-Hoo in your Cheerios?” Pemberley questions. “That’s gross.”

“You eat raw fish and rice,” Fitz counters. 

“It’s good.”

“So is Yoo-Hoo and Cheerios.”

“You would do well with a wife,” Jett says from the kitchen, breaking up the great food debate.

“I have a wife,” Fitz says, his voice hard. 

There are times when we forget that even though Ithaca has been dead for ten years; Fitz still considers himself married and not a widower. He doesn’t date and I’ve never seen him without his wedding ring. 

“Fitz, Ithaca wouldn’t want you to live your life just waiting to join her,” Jett says. “She’d want you to find someone who’ll make you happy.”

“I spend my time helping sick kids. It was Ithaca’s idea that I go back to school and become a doctor. I don’t want anyone else.”

The subject is dropped and Fitz and Tricky fight over the remote more. Tricky is addicted to Shark Week on Discovery and Fitz wants to watch baseball. They finally surrender and agree to have the Mets game in the Picture-In-Picture on Fitz’s side of the TV. Pemberley and I busy ourselves in the kitchen helping Jett with dinner. My parents are due home any time. Mom is usually first as her office was just around the corner at the church. Dad could appear at anytime depending on traffic from Greenwich Village. Dad’s the owner of Ada Records. Even though he hasn’t recorded a new album in almost eight years he still has a lot to do with each talent signed. 

Dad is a master salesman. He built his entire career with having gone to high school or even college. Everything Dad has he earned through hard work and perseverance. Mom on the other hand, is not counting Fitz, the most educated adult in my life. She got a degree in business and accounting and used it to create her foundation: Parents of HIV. Her foundation helps parents cope with raising or caring for an HIV-positive child. Mom knows first hand what challenges these parents face. She did it twice. 

“What is that wonderful smell?” my mother’s voice says as she enters the loft. “Lexie, did you pick up something for dinner?”

She’s in the other loft and hasn’t seen Tricky or Jett. She comes into the open living area where we’re all gathered. She’s reading a message on her phone and doesn’t look up.

“Hi Auntie Lauren!” Pemberley chimes, startling Mom.

“Oh! Pemberley what are you doing here?” Mom asks. 

“Daddy’s making dinner,” she answers. 

“If you three are going to be here all the time, you might as well sell Vianne’s penthouse. Someone else should be allowed to enjoy that view,” Mom says. “That goes for you too, Dr. Hamilton.”

“Once I eat I’ll be out of your hair,” he says. “Davey Martin has challenged me to a Smash Brothers battle.”

Fitz may be almost forty but he still acts like the young man he was when he and my sister first met. He is the only doctor I know that refuses to wear scrubs and a lab coat. He typically wears vintage rock band t-shirts, jeans and chucks. He says he dresses that way so the kids he treats won’t be as frightened of him. Kids see a doctor coming at them in a white lab coat, they freak out. But with Fitz, they seem him as the big brother who’ll play video games with them. Ithaca used to call him Peter Pan because he refused to grow up. Kids love him and parents are weary. 

“Fitz, I have a very nice young lady working for me, that I’d love for you to meet,” Mom says, going into the kitchen. 

“Don’t bother Lauren,” Tricky says. “We already tried.”

Mom sighs and shakes her head. I sometimes wonder what our lives would have been if Ithaca hadn’t died. Would everyone be where they are? Would Fitz still be a doctor? Would Tricky, Jett and Pemberley still live with us full time? Would Memory have gone into something other than the law? And me? What about me? Who would I have been?

Mom slips into her and Dad’s room to change out of her suit. It always amazes me how glamorous she can be in simple clothes. When she does dress up for award shows or Jett’s fashion shows she is always on everyone’s Best Dressed list. Kelly Osborne, daughter of the late rocker Ozzy, once said that my mother has a way of always looking classy, like Grace Kelly or Katherine Hepburn.

“Dinner’s ready!” Jett calls. He set plates on the breakfast bar and left everything simmering on the stove. He stopped setting the table years ago. With everyone always coming and going at odd times it’s easier to just buffet it. When Memory was in school she was in so many other activities we rarely saw her. 

Jett made a pasta bar with various sauces and meats. Watching Pemberley carefully select her meal, I am so glad that I’m not a dancer. I like being able to eat whatever I want. Pemberley eats tiny portions to keep her tiny frame. 

“When’s Dad getting home?” I ask, between bites of my spaghetti. 

“I don’t know,” Mom says. “He hasn’t called.”

I dig my phone out of my pocket and hit the speed dial to Dad’s office. “Ada Records, this is Alice.”

“Hey Alice, it’s Lexie. Is my dad there?” I ask. 

Alice has been Dad’s assistant for years. She started working for Ada Records when she was in high school as a temp. She became Dad’s assistant after she graduated. Alice Bailey is the best assistant my dad ever had. If she can help it she makes sure Dad gets home in time for dinner. 

“He just left,” Alice says. “Alex McPope took longer to record then we had anticipated. Tell Lauren I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay Alice. We were just wondering where he was.”

“I ordered him a car about ten minutes ago. He should be home within the hour,” Alice says. 

“Thanks Alice.” I hang up my phone. “Alice just put Dad in a car. He should be home soon.”

Fitz ate three platefuls of spaghetti with red sauce along with his medications. By the way Fitz acts you wouldn’t think he’s slowly dying. He does have his bad days but for the most part if you didn’t know him you wouldn’t think there’s anything wrong with him. He is going out the door to get back to the hospital just as Dad is coming in. 

“Hey Max, bye Max,” Fitz says as he leaves the loft. 

“All right,” Dad says, setting his keys in the bowl. “Nice to see you too Fitz.”

There is something different about Dad. He seems down and he’s never down. He and Mom wouldn’t look at each other. My parents have been together for twenty-seven years and married for seventeen. In comparison, Pemberley’s dads have been together  forty-six years. There have been times that they all have wanted to get away from each other but they always come back. Ithaca said that in our family we mate for life. Sometimes I think she’s right. 

“Now I remember why everyone is here today!” Tricky says, brandishing his fork. “We have to talk about Athens.”

The one thing we always did as a family was take a large vacation. It started when Ithaca and Ada were nine and Nanna Vianne took everyone to Orlando for a week. After that they went everywhere. I have been to London, Paris, Vienna, Salzburg, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and we thought about going to Tokyo once but decided to go to Berlin instead. When I was a baby my parents would take me with them when Dad would go on tour. Sometimes I would stay with Nanna Ophelia or Nanna Vianne. 

“Did Aunt Arcadia say she and Uncle Albert would be able to come?” I ask, excited.

“She, Albert and Hadley are coming,” Mom answers. “Donny would come but he’s going to be starting training camp.” Donny Arvine plays football for Notre Dame. “So the final count is four Porters, three Stavros-Howards, three Arvines and a doctor.”

We’ve never gone to Greece before. Dad went there once on his world tour when Ithaca was little but we’ve never vacationed there. I was excited. 

“We’re going to be staying at the Grand Bretagne Hotel in Athens for the month,” Tricky says, getting out the trip binder. “Max and Lauren, you’ll be staying in the Royal Suite while Jett and I have the Presidential. Albert and Arcadia will have the Grand Exceutive Suite and the kids and Fitz will have a Junior Suite.”

“Does that mean we each get our own suite?” Pemberley asks. 

“No Pemberley,” Tricky says. “You and Lexie will share a suite and Hadley and Ree will share. And Fitz gets his own room.”

“How long are we going to be in Greece?” I ask, munching on a breadstick. 

“We’re staying the month while Fitz, Memory and Hadley will only be staying two weeks. They have to get back for school and work.”

A whole month in Greece. I can hardly wait. But first, Pemberley and I have our auditions for school.