My name is Eoghan MacAuliffe. Friends play it safe and call me Mac. It’s amazing how alone one can feel, especially in a city the size of New York. Folks spilling out of skyscrapers and emerging from subways stations, running in every direction imaginable … and, effortlessly ignoring one another.
Christmas was approaching and the feeling of aloneness was becoming more and more acute with each passing day. I had enough friends to keep me busy but, as the lyrics of Blue Moon kept reminding me, I was without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own. I was not looking forward to the holidays.
And, since I no longer believed in Santa Claus, things were looking pretty bleak. Being of British descent, I kept a stiff-upper-lip, hoping no one suspected how unhappy I was.
It was a beautiful December Saturday morning as I walked the 65th Street Traverse from the West Side through Central Park to Fifth Avenue, on my way to do some Christmas shopping for kith and kin back in the U.K. I paused at the park’s Carousel and watched the fun everyone was having, remembering how, when I first arrived in New York City, I rode that thing so many times I was on a first-name basis with the attendant. His name was Pepe and he reminded me of what Santa Claus might look like.
By mid-afternoon, I had found all the gifts I needed and was headed back to my apartment on West 67th Street. As I passed Zara’s Department Store, I stopped at one of the display windows and watched a young man dressing the headless mannequins. When he hesitated in choosing a tie for the suit he was styling, I tapped on the window and shook my head about the tie he had in his hand. He looked and laughed when he saw me. He held up two more ties of which I disapproved; then smiled and nodded my approval at the third one he presented to me. I continued to watch as he finished dressing the figure. He paused and waved as he left the display window. I stood there a moment, reluctant to leave until a man standing near me spoke. “Nice looking young man.”
“What?” I turned and found myself looking at a well-dressed elderly man. “Oh, yes, I agree.”
“His name is Larry.”
“It is? How do you know?”
“I’ve known him all his life. He’s a good boy but he’s very unhappy … with me.”
“Is that so. I’m sorry to hear it.”
“He’s on his way to take a lunch break before finishing his shift.”
“You seem to know a lot about him.”
He moved closer and put out his hand, “I’m Hank.”
“Hi, Hank, I’m Mac.”
I told him my full name which brought a smile to his gentle face. We continued to talk for the next few minutes, or rather, he did all the talking … about Larry. He finally stopped and then added. “He’s taking his break at Old John’s Luncheonette around the corner on 67th Street.”
“Oh?” was all I could think to say.
“I’m on my way over there; why don’t you come along?”
I was so surprised, I was tongue-tied for a few seconds, “Oh, okay. I’d like that.”
“Good, come on. He should be there by now.”
When we got to the luncheonette, Hank pointed, “There he is … over in the corner.” He held the door open for me, “I’ll be along in a minute.”
“Okay, thanks, Hank.” I wondered why he didn’t come with me as I walked over to Larry’s table, “Hi, Larry. May I join you?”
He looked up with the most surprised expression, “Sure. Oh. I saw you at the window … do I know you?”
“Actually, no. But Hank told me all about you. He should be joining us in a minute.” When the color drained from his face I knew I had said or done something wrong.
“Who did you say?”
“He told me his name was Hank and he seems to know you very well. You do know who I’m talking about I hope.”
His mouth was slightly open. “Yes, I do know him. When did you talk with him?”
“Just a few minutes ago. He told me a lot about you. I even know about the scar on your knee when you fell off of your bike. He walked over here with me; said he'd be right along. … Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing is wrong. Please sit down. What’s your name?”
I told him and then qualified it with “Call me, Mac.”
I began to feel somewhat awkward when Hank did not follow. “Maybe I misunderstood him.” I got up. “I thought he was going to follow me. Evidently not. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.” I turned to leave.
He began to laugh. “No, no, don’t leave. Please, stay.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure what’s so funny.”
“Was he wearing a black homburg with a red feather?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, he was. What’s so funny about that?”
“Mac, I hate to tell you this but, that was my father.”
“I figured as much.”
“I loved that man like no other human being. He raised me after my mother passed away.”
“Well, he seemed to think a lot of you, except he feels you are not very happy with him. I didn’t ask why since it’s none of my business.”
The waitress approached, “What’ll you folks have?”
“We’ll both have the Grilled Filet of Salmon with dill sauce.”
Larry stared at me, “How did you know?”
“Hank told me. He said it was your favorite. It is, isn't it?”
"Yes, it is."
“And to drink?”
“Iced tea for both of us.”
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to have until just before you arrived.”
“Well, he seemed pretty certain about it. You were saying?”
“I was saying that he’s right. I am very unhappy with him?”
“And that is, because…”
“I know this is going to sound strange, but my father, Hank ... passed away a few months ago. That’s why I’m so unhappy with him.”
A chill ran up my spine, my hands turned to ice, and my mouth dropped open. Now, I could feel the blood draining from my face. “I don’t understand.”
“He wore that homburg every day of his life and insisted I bury him with it.”
“Yes, I did.”
“But who was the man I talked with?”
“That was, Hank, my dad.” The joy on his face was undeniable.
“The first time it happened, I thought so, too.”
“This has happened before?”
“Yes. He knew he was dying and was concerned that I had not found a husband.”
“Oh, my God ... me?”
“Sure looks like it.”
“You said this has happened before.”
“Twice. The first time freaked me out. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then it dawned on me. He’s staying here until he feels I have the right life partner.”
“But why me?”
“Good question. Are you single?”
“Are you looking for a life partner?”
“Well, yes, I guess I am.”
“Dad probably picked up on that and appeared to you so he could steer you over here.”
“Hum. That’s interesting but I don’t…”
“Don’t worry, Mac. You’re under no obligation if you’re not interested.”
“Well, I did stop when I saw you in the window and felt some kind of connection.”
“You certainly have good taste in ties.” He could not keep from smiling.
“Thanks. Now, what do we do?”
“Nothing for the moment. Let’s enjoy our meal; we can talk until I have to go back to work.”
We did talk and discovered we had more in common than I thought possible. We became friends and saw a good deal of one another over the following months, enjoying all the amenities New York has to offer. One of our favorites was the Carousel in Central Park. Pepe was no longer working there but we got to know the new attendant, Cluny, who had a marvelous sense of humor and had us laughing a good deal of the time.
I read somewhere that love creeps up on its hands and knees until one day you realize you’re up to your ears in it. And, it’s true. Almost a year after Hank introduced us, I began to look at Larry differently. When I realized what was happening, I stopped him one day as we walked through the park and hesitantly announced, “Larry, I think I've fallen in love with you.”
He put his arms around my neck and drew me so close I was sure I could feel his heart beating, “Mac, you’ve made me so happy this last year; I know Dad would be pleased. How would you like to get married?”
I was so surprised at his proposal, I was tongue-tied but managed to say, “Yes.”
To celebrate, we headed for the carousel. When I saw Cluny, I stopped in my tracks, “Larry, look.”
“Oh, my God, no.”
“Cluny, where’d you get that homburg?”
“Morning, folks. Ain’t it a pip? Some gent gave it to me on my way to work; said he didn’t need it any longer. Can you imagine that? He said the red feather was for luck.” Cluny pushed the hat forward and strutted away.
I kissed Larry’s cheek and whispered, “Yes, I can imagine that.” We both laughed and waited for Cluny to start the carousel. That ride was a little bit of heaven we’ve never forgotten.
Hank may not have been Santa Claus but he was pretty close.