UNITED STATES—On an October afternoon a poignant figure showed up on my doorstep at Manhattan Place, an accountant separating from his wife after 48 years. Can you imagine why a couple that age wants to split? They already must know each other too well; then again, maybe that’s why.
The man was from Huntington Beach, but had his office on Wilshire. Spoke a few words only in a deep dour monotone and stated that he had a big record collection. I tried unsubtly to coax some conversation out of him, observing he and his wife had called it quits so close to the golden anniversary mark. He didn’t want to talk. He stood unsmiling on the doorstep of the house on Manhattan Place as the 5 o’clock sun came through the leaves of the elm tree.
Everything about him was gray, his gray suit, gray hair, his personality had the grayness of dust. His skin itself had a grayish cast. His tie was the only thing not gray—it was wine colored. Tall, somewhat stooped, he looked older than 69. There were grown kids. Was he stepping out on the Mrs.? Not likely, maybe she just got sick of him.
Since he was facing the prospect of moving for probably the first time in 40 years, he was not picky. There was a spacious bedroom in the house up the street, recently vacated by the telenovela acting couple. I have the impression of having sealed the deal on the porch steps, but I actually drove him up the street. He took one look at the room and pronounced it big enough for his record collection.
As this new bachelor life was launching for the accountant, Maya came into my life. She left no poems. I always thought I’d write a poem to her so I would make some future lonely poets squirm about what they did or did not have.
Maya came to see a room. I knew she was right for Sixth St., nice house and nice neighborhood, but being lazy I took her up the street to show her a new opening at the house where the accountant had moved in. We passed his open doorway. He was happy as a clam in his armchair, listening to Woody Herman and Count Basie.
It was a Saturday, he had on a plaid shirt and was in this room with its dark furnishings that appeared to have been wholly transported from 1948. Maya found that house depressing and couldn’t wait to see the 6th Street property, which she liked but remained undecided about. I called her to follow up, and we got to talking after that. Maya was out from Worcester, Mass. (pronounced Wooster), had just graduated from college, and she was now a secretary at an anodyne office near Wilshire.
Supremely grounded and not an actress. Early on she seduced me in the best possible way, she recruited me to help her move to an apartment north of Sunset. It was on Hobart—she would say Ho-bought. Maya always had a scarf and the gold earrings stood out on her coffee-black lobes and her smile was a miracle of creation.
Her Western Massachusetts accent, her sometimes brash manner, her Christian rectitude and clear sense of right and wrong were a refreshing in contrast to the moral ambiguity that was sprouting in me as a building manager. I had recently faced the choice to lie about the telenovela acting couple, Luis and Rebecca, expecting a new baby, and tell their new landlord that they always paid on time, so that they could get passed on to someone else.
Maybe it would be nice if Maya and I could see a movie. We made a date to see a movie, but we arrived late at the theater. Not a great tragedy since I wasn’t crazy about seeing “White Palace.” So we came back to Maya’s apartment. We talked. We had some coffee. Maya missed her friends and family back in Wooster. She felt the danger of the city at night, coming back from her office on the bus. The city was a beast lurking, and she detected how Los Angeles could harden a person even before they knew what was happening.
Maya was so sensitive to all this—no wonder I knew she was a fine person.
Grady Miller is a humorist and author of the comedy collection “Late Bloomer.” Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org