3. Having dinner with the first boy I ever kissed. Information gives me the number. He picks up the phone. "Hi, Richie," I say. "It's Patty." "Hey, Patty," he says. We make a date to meet at a restaurant that used to be the Whelan's where we slurped lime rickeys in 1955. I don't know how I recognize Richie Mishkin. He has white hair and a beard. Amazing, since I haven't changed at all. I bring him copies of our class picture and our first kiss, which was immortalized in a photo booth after my sixth-grade birthday party.
Richie fills me in: In college he played bass for Lou Reed when Lou's band was LA and the Eldorados. Then it was Pasha and the Prophets, then LA and the Prophets. When it was Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Richie dropped out and went to law school. Now he's with Coldwell Banker.
"I don't remember vast stretches of my past." He shakes his head.
"Well," I say, "you were a rocker."
As we talk his white hair disappears. He's adorable again. He twinkles. The waiter takes our picture reenacting the kiss (still closed mouthed, Mrs. Mishkin). We share a sundae and confirm we both still fold our newspapers New York–subway style, the way Miss Haas (Haas the Horror) taught us. I can't wait to meet his wife. She used to be a nun.
4. Seeing what my grandmother looked like young. My maternal grandmother, Polly Ann Morgen, née Lieban, won a trophy for best legs in Atlantic City, 1916. I want to see her legs before her hip betrayed her and she had to use a cane. I call the Atlantic City Historical Society, thinking maybe they have a record of beauty pageants. They put me in touch with the president, Bob Ruffolo, who is raising money to re-create the famous Diving Horse (it went headfirst off the high board into a tank) in bronze. Ruffolo suggests the library. Bingo! Microfilm!
I drive down and ask for the Atlantic City Daily Press, summer 1916, which turns out to be the year Mr. Peanut (a man dressed like a goober with a top hat and monocle) launched his boardwalk career. I spend three hours lost in 1916 America, reading headlines like VILLA BAND ROUTED BY APACHE SCOUTS and GET READY FOR OLD AGE—START SAVING AT ONCE, BE IT ONLY A PENNY A DAY. There are no photos of my grandmother. I wouldn't have been able to see her legs anyway. In 1916, according to drawings in the newspaper, ladies' bathing suits were two-piece affairs with a knee-length skirt. Legs were covered by thick stockings. No wonder Polly "swam" by hauling herself along a knotted rope tied to a pier. Her clothes would have sunk her.
So I didn't find my grandmother's photo, so what? Anticipating is half the fun, and now I can stop wondering about it. I buy some Fralinger's saltwater taffy and call my sister from the boardwalk, where we spent vacations in the penny arcade. On the way home I pass the turnoff where my grandfather got lost and said the F word and my sister and I thought we would die in the backseat trying not to laugh.
5. Joining the New York Parks Mounted Auxiliary Unit. Have you ever loved doing something you were really bad at? I've been riding horses since I was 8. I've never ridden well. Still, there's nothing I'd rather do. Horse beauty rocks me. I love being high up, smelling that horse smell, controlling 1,600 pounds with the flex of a pinkie. I love pulling on my 35-year-old boots and using words like currycomb, crop, and withers.
Hacking in New York City is $50 an hour now. But what if I joined the Parks Mounted Auxiliary Unit? I'd volunteer to be a Mountie and ride in Central Park for free! I'd wear a uniform! I'd have a walkie-talkie! I'd learn police codes and spend the day in my favorite place doing civic good. Does it get better?
I take two brush-up lessons before the test. It's been a while since I've been on a horse. No matter. Some of it comes back. Sergeant Wilkins tells me to buy a pair of green jodhpurs and black knee-high riding boots. I'm not too happy about this, since I've put on 30 pounds writing a book about what my family eats.
The day of the test comes. The horse is 16.2 hands high. That's high. Wilkins expects me to mount without a step or leg up. "Guess I'll start taking yoga again," I say, the toe of my boot not even close to the stirrup. Finally I'm up and the horse is lovely—but I fail the test.
"You need to build calf strength," Wilkins says.
I'm committing myself to two lessons a week until I'm good enough to pass. I will, no matter what.
We Hear You!