Archive for the ‘Friends, Here and Gone’ category

Sea Dream Yacht Club’s Werner Roy

March 21, 2013

Werner Roy

Today, anyone who has the desire to take a cruise can find something that suits their tastes and price range.  From mammoth “floating cities” with all the bells and whistles, medium-sized vessels in all price ranges and very small ships, usually costing a little more but including more in the cruise fare, there is something for everyone.  But for most of cruising history, an ocean voyage was the exclusive domain of the very wealthy.  Most evenings were formal.  As the cruise industry has evolved, there is an increasingly casual ambiance about the experience.  This has carried over to the interaction between passenger and crew members.  Particularly on the very small ships, friendships are made between passengers and crew that carry over year to year.

For the past few years, I have taken Sea Dream Yacht Club’s Sea Dream 2 out of St. Thomas in early December.  On my first voyage, I noticed a waiter, Werner Roy, who stood out from his peers.  He was considerably older, and unlike many of the other waiters, he was Caucasian.  Much of Sea Dream’s crew is Asian.  He struck me as very formal, and I, incorrectly, took this as a lack of warmth.  As time passed, our group sat in his station and we began to talk with Werner.  He turned out to be our favorite, and on our last cruise in December, 2012, we had the Maître’d reserve a front table with Werner for the entire cruise.  The more I learned about his extensive history at sea, the more I understood his demeanor was a reflection of his years aboard the premier luxury liners of their day.  He is doting, yet reserved and unobtrusive.  His bearing is formal and respectful. The more I drew him out, the more I wanted to hear his story.  He agreed to be interviewed for this piece, and seemed happy to do so.

Werner Roy comes from the Black Forest region of Germany, which is bordered by France to the West and Switzerland to the South.  He attended Hotel school in Switzerland, and upon graduation, went on to work at prestigious hotels in England, Switzerland and Paris.  But he was feeling the ocean beckoning him, and his first contract at sea was on a freighter.  He suggested trying a freighter cruise as a passenger would be a rewarding experience, and I’m looking into doing that.

Deciding that his hotel and hospitality experience would be better served on a passenger ship than a freighter, Werner landed a waiter position with the Royal Viking line. Royal Viking was the premier cruise line of that time, counting among its passengers Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and Vincent Price among numerous other celebrities. Royal Viking operated from 1972 to 1994 when financial difficulties necessitated its sale to the Cunard line.  In 1998, Cunard was taken over by Carnival.  The Royal Viking Star holds a fond place in my heart for two reasons.  First, they had the gumption to throw the lovely and congenial Leona Helmsley off the ship after she had thoroughly annoyed both crew and fellow passengers.  You have to love that. I guess money can’t buy everything.  Secondly, I had the chance to sail on the Star after it had been sold to Norwegian Cruise lines.  I just wanted to see the ship.  We didn’t have much money, and took an inside cabin on the lowest deck, but the ship was gorgeous.  That stateroom was the largest I’ve had on any of my cruises.

While with Cunard, Werner served on both the Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II, 220 passenger ultra-luxury ships that were the epitome of upscale small ship cruising. Today, they are the Sea Dream 1 and 2. His Sea Goddess passengers included Princess Caroline of Monaco and Prince Albert. I had to practically pry the names from Werner.  Even now, all these years later, he places a high value on the guest’s privacy.  He is clearly not comfortable speaking about past passengers.  His discretion is most admirable.

While Werner was taking contract after contract at sea, he had a fiancé at home who had expected him to come home and take a land-based job. He kept saying this next contract would be the last, but finally his Lady had had enough.  He was sorry about it, but he’d found his calling at sea. He does not regret it. He has loved life at sea.

At 63 years young, Werner plans to retire in a couple years. He has a lady friend waiting for him in Germany, and claims to be looking forward to retiring. He is considering spending half of each year in Asia, and has a keen interest in gardening. When we were getting ready to disembark last December, Werner was preparing to fly home for Christmas to celebrate with friends and family. He was looking forward to all the traditional German foods served at Christmas, including the “weiswurst”, a veal and bacon sausage, and gluhwein, the spicy mulled red wine made with cloves, cinnamon, and sugar and served hot. Adding nutmeg and brandy is optional. After his two month vacation, he was looking forward to coming back aboard Sea Dream 2. He loves working with and teaching the younger waiters and introducing passengers to new foods.  You can see from how Werner is treated by his co-workers that he is both respected and loved.  He says he will have no trouble retiring, but I have to wonder.  He will miss the sea.  Retirement can be a major adjustment.

When next December rolls around, Werner and Sea Dream 2 will be in Asia rather than their usual Caribbean itinerary. This will be great for many of the crew, as they will be close to home and family. My Wife Susie and I will be sailing on another ship, and we will dearly miss both Werner and the whole Sea Dream 2 family.  It is my fervent hope to have a chance to sail with them again before Werner retires. I will miss his droll humor, the sparkle in his eye and his love of people. He has become my friend.

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Andy Rooney and Jud Sr.

November 16, 2011

The recent passing of Andy Rooney just four weeks after his final appearance as a regular on 60 Minutes compelled me to write this piece.  I have known Rooney since I was a toddler.  At the time of his death, I had not spoken to Rooney in a number of years, my Father having passed on in 1983.  But there are many memories of Rooney that remain very vivid to me to this day.  They are bittersweet memories.  While Rooney was unquestionably my Father’s favorite person on the planet, he was not mine.  Nor did he seem to like me much, if he had any opinion at all.

Andy Rooney was my father’s best friend.  They met in prep school at the Albany Academy, forging an almost immediate and lifelong friendship.  They were the starting guard and tackle on the football team.  After Prep school, they went on to attend Colgate together until World War II changed many people’s plans.  Rooney joined the Army, writing for Stars and Stripes, while my Father became a B-17 bomber pilot in the Army Air Force.  After the War, both of them came to live in Manhattan.  My Father took over his Father’s liquor store in Sutton Place, while Rooney got his journalistic career going.  Andrew and his Wife, Marge, settled in Peter Copper Village on First Avenue in the 20’s.  My Mother and Father took an apartment in 405 East 54th Street, across First Avenue from his shop.  As kids began to enter the picture, both men decided to move to the suburbs, ostensibly for the better school systems.  We bought a house in Port Washington, out on Long Island, while Rooney settled in Rowayton, CT. Even after the move, the two families saw each other.  My Father met Rooney for lunch fairly often, and they spoke on the phone almost daily.

Although 60 Minutes called him Andy Rooney, I never heard either of my parents call him anything other than Andrew.  So for the duration of this piece, Andrew he will be.  As much as he liked my Pop, he disliked my Mother.   My Father internalized everything, seldom saying anything incendiary until he would explode at some later date, for no apparent reason.  Everyone liked my Pop because he always had the proper, expected response.   My Mother was the polar opposite.  She was highly-opinionated, extremely intelligent, bitingly sarcastic and confrontational.  She almost never raised her voice, and never swore.  But arguing with Helen was like walking into a buzz saw.  Andrew was very much the same kind of person.  As the years have passed and I’ve had time to think about this, it seems to me much of their mutual antipathy was rooted in their innate sameness.  Alcohol played a role in all of this as well.  While it would be silly to blame booze for the frequent arguments, it was as if there was a pile of dried kindling in the room with an accelerant poured over it.  Some evenings no spark would hit the pile and the evening would be civil and pleasant.  But all too often it did not end that way and a blaze ensued.  The more rounds of drinks, the greater the chances of an unhappy ending to the evening. There was a period where my Mother and Andrew did not speak for years.

Andrew made his own ice cream from scratch, and to this day I have never tasted anything as good.  My memory may fail me, but it seems the first time I had it, it was peach.  This was an almost religious experience.  He was an avid New York Giants football fan and had season tickets both at the old Yankee Stadium and later at the Meadowlands.  He took my Father fairly often.  Andrew drove a little two-seater, an MG or Triumph, and with great enthusiasm.  And speed.  My Father was terrified of Andrew’s driving and would come home pale and white-knuckled.  My Pop loved his football and hanging with Andrew, so the drive was the price of admission.  He toughed it out.

I went to college in Miami, determined to become a journalist.  While I hardly broke a sweat in most of my classes, I actively pursued two unpaid internships for academic credit.  I worked for both the Miami Herald and Channel 10, Miami’s ABC affiliate.  I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  As Graduation approached, Channel 10 expressed an interest in bringing me on full-time.  I was thrilled.  But my Father suffered the first of several heart attacks and everything changed overnight.  I had to go home and run the family business, something I had sworn I would never do.  In retrospect, I was probably selfish; my Pop had not wanted to get sick.  But I was not happy and I do not hide it well.  When my Father had recovered, he returned to work.  He had a staff he trusted, and I began sending out resumes to media companies in New York.  I must have sent out a hundred of them without so much as an interview.

I returned from lunch one afternoon and my Father told me that an interview had been arranged with Andrew at CBS.  I was ecstatic.  For the days leading up to the interview, I edited and re-edited my resume and rehearsed good answers to questions I might be asked.  I bought a suit, shined my shoes until they reflected like a mirror, and cut my hair corporate-short.  It was hard to tell if I was more excited or nervous; probably equal parts both.

The big day came and I entered Andrew’s office over on West 57th Street.  I had just sat down and had not even said a word when Andrew lit into me.  “You’re not my friend.  I’m your Father’s friend” he hissed.  “Why should I pull strings for you when I don’t do that for my own children?”  This was true. His son Brian, about my age and also a journalist, had had to start out in the Midwest someplace and work his way from there.  He has established a terrific career in L.A. and deserves a ton of credit.  Rooney went on to accuse me of looking for shortcuts through connections rather than earning my station in life.  I listened as long as I could take it, and then stood up and walked to the door.  Before I walked out, using some rather coarse language, I inquired why he had agreed to talk to me at all.  This was a complete waste of time for both of us.  I was angry and humiliated, and this episode bothered me for a long time.

Again, the passage of time yielded clarity and understanding that had eluded in the moment.  I realized this had nothing to do with me.  Andrew could not say no to my Father, his best friend.  I would have liked to tell Andrew that I had not asked to speak with him, that I understood his principles.  I never got the chance.  I’m hoping my Pop told him at some point.

The last time I saw Andrew was in 2004 at a Giants game in the Meadowlands.  I looked to my right and he sat alone, looking cold and hunched over.  I just read in his obituary that his Wife Marge had passed in 2004, and it occurred to me that maybe it had just happened recently when I ran into him.  He looked devastated.  I went over and said his name.  Without looking up, he gestured to keep walking.  Rooney never much liked strangers approaching him.  Then I told him it was Bill Judson.  He looked up, smiled and shook my hand.  We made some brief small talk and I told him my Mother was terminally ill with emphysema.  He told me how sorry he was and I asked him to give her a call, writing her number on a scrap of paper.  I don’t know if he ever called her.  Maybe he’d seen enough Death.  She didn’t mention his having called.  She was dead a few months later.

When I think of Andrew Rooney, the most prominent thing that comes to mind is the completeness of his friendship with my Father.  In 1983, when my Father was close to the end, my girlfriend Susie (now my Wife) and I would go up to Lenox Hill Hospital every night after work.  Andrew never missed a night; like clockwork.  He had worked a whole day and had a long commute home ahead of him, but he would not go home without visiting my Pop.  As you grow older, you watch friends drift away as circumstances change.  You come to realize that while once you thought you had lots of friends, ultimately you are blessed if you have one or two.  The real friends finish the race.  They walk the walk.  Well, in his very distinct way, Rooney walked the walk.   Andrew Rooney was funny, interesting and lived his life on his terms.  You didn’t have to like him, but you had to respect him.   But his greatest trait to me was his absolutely unwavering and total commitment to the few he called “friend.”  My Father was lucky to have had him.

For those of you who enjoyed this article, please read Andrew’s piece Jud written just after my father’s death.  It is in Rooney’s 1984 book “Pieces of My Mind” in the Chapter called Passing.  The piece is short, emotional and to the point.  Very much like Andrew Rooney.

 

Remembering Vinnie Ressa

April 20, 2011

The two year anniversary of Vinnie Ressa’s death just passed; doesn’t really seem like it was that long ago.  But I’m 60 years old, so I guess time does not pay much attention to whether you’re watching or not.  My Wife Susie and I were travelling when Vinnie died, so I missed the Wake and Funeral.  When I got home, there were several messages on my machine and emails to break the news.  I was sorry to have missed attending all the services.  Not only did I feel I should have been there, but I heard later that many people came who I would have liked to have seen.  Sometimes unhappy circumstances make for some really nice reconnecting.  I’m sure that was the case with Vinnie’s services.  He touched a lot of people.

 I particularly would have liked to see Vinnie’s family who, over the course of many years, always made me feel like family, too.  I love his Mom and Dad; two wonderful people.  I was asked to join them for Easter many years ago, and it was my first Italian Holiday meal. My folks had split up and being an only child, I was often alone on Holidays.  I was very grateful for the invitation and looking forward to the meal. A huge platter of homemade raviolis was brought out, and I ate like a caged animal. I noticed everyone else taking small portions, and I exclaimed “You call yourselves Italian? You’re hardly eating anything.” The Ressa family just smiled at me and winked at each other.  Being sharp as a marble, I did not catch on.  But soon enough, I realized an Italian Easter dinner has about a thousand courses.  The food just kept coming out; a turkey, a ham, more pasta, an antipasto.  Being a team player and a dyed-in-the-wool gourmand, I partook in every course, but the first course had pretty much done me in. I’ll never forget that meal, and how much I felt as if I was with my family.

Vinnie and I got to know each other in Weber, before I went away to Prep school. But we did not get friendly until I returned to public school at Schreiber, midway through junior year.  We hung in the same crowd all through Schreiber and remained friendly throughout and after college. But it was after college, during the five years I lived in Port before moving to Manhattan, Vinnie and I really became good friends.

I had returned from Florida to run my Father’s wine business because he had had heart problems.  Because of this, I was financially a little ahead of most of my friends and the first to have my own apartment. Seeing as most of my buddies were still living with their folks, my pad turned into the second coming of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.  There were always people coming at all hours, girls and guys, and Vinnie was a regular.  I used to cook a lot in those days, always cooking in quantity intending to fill the freezer. But little of the food ever got frozen.  I fed whoever came by at suppertime.  Hanging out at my place was the usual prelude to going out at night.  Vinnie used to call before he came, although he didn’t have to.   I remember one night I’d just gotten in from work in the City and the phone rang.  I answered, and it was Vinnie.

“Jud, where are you?” Vince inquired.  This was before the cell phone era, he had called my home telephone and I had answered.

“Vince, you called my house and I picked up.” I replied. “Where would you suppose I might be?”

“Oh yeah, right” Vinnie answered and then clammed up. It was not uncommon for Vinnie to call me and after the perfunctory greetings, say nothing.  I realize that conversation is not necessary if you’re comfortable with a friend’s company in person, but I’ve never understood extended silences on the telephone.  But Vinnie seemed to have no problems with it, so I brought it to a close.

“Vince, come on over if you want. I made a beef stew.” And I hung up.

Another evening I’d just gotten home and Vinnie’s huge old red car pulled up. He came up and I was just ready to eat so I made another plate.  As we’re eating, Vinnie showed me a paperback he was reading.  I still remember the name, a book called Shardik.  This book was around five inches thick and Vinnie was on around page 10.

“Jud, I’m reading this book and it is really pretty cool. It has all these animals in it; bears, eagles, lions, you name it. But there is one animal I’ve never heard of. It’s called a Leo-pard.” Vinnie said.

He pronounced Leo like a man’s first name, emphasis on the first syllable.  I knew without looking at the book that the animal in question was a leopard.

“Vinnie, that animal is not, perchance, a leopard, is it? I asked, knowing the answer.

You could see the realization dawn on Vinnie’s face followed by near panic.  All he needed to say was “of course, how silly of me.” It would have died then and there. But he chose a different tact.

“No, no, I would have known that. It’s spelled differently” Vince insisted.

I grabbed the book off the table, opened it to his bookmark, and there was leopard.

“There’s your goddamn LEO-pard, Vinnie” I said, my finger on the word.

“Jud, you‘ve got to promise not to tell anyone about this! Please!’ Vinnie asked beseechingly.

I told him of course, I wouldn’t tell anyone. And naturally, within 48 hours, everyone we knew had heard the Leo-pard story. My relationship with Vinnie had always been all about pulling each other chains, and this seemed a golden opportunity.  Not only did I tell the rest of our crew, but for the next almost thirty years, Vinnie received leopard photographs and illustrations from all over the world.  In my travels, I kept an eye out for leopard pictures and sent them to Vince. Photographs, pen and ink drawings, charcoal sketches, you name it. He got leopard mailings from Istanbul, Russia, Helsinki, French Polynesia, Dubrovnik etc. Never any message, just the pictures. I thought it was funny and thought he did, too.  I just learned a couple years ago that his Wife Suzie had asked what was with the leopard pictures, and Vinnie claimed to have no idea. He was ashamed of the story, and knowing I had caused him angst makes me feel bad.  I had spoken with him dozens of times over all those years, and he never told me. I wish he had. I would have stopped.

Vinnie was diligent in creating an easygoing, quick-to-laugh aura, but I knew him very well and do not believe that was the real Vinnie.  I think he was often less than happy in his own skin.  I saw the introspective side from time to time. Vinnie was a worrier, and very concerned with how others perceived him.  He was friendly with the hippies, the greasers, the jocks, the intellectuals and artists.  His persona changed according to his audience. Few people try to be everything to everybody, and fewer still succeed at that endeavor.  I think at times Vinnie, himself, wondered who he really was. To people like me, real friends, all Vinnie ever had to be was himself.  He was my friend because I liked him just how he was, not because I viewed him as some work in progress.

I miss Vinnie a great deal. After I’d moved to Manhattan, we existed in different worlds. We’d see each other at the reunions and things, and would always talk at length. In hindsight, I wish I had done more to keep current. But when someone isn’t in your daily life, he is not as relevant as when you see him every day. Not less important, just less relevant. I thought Vinnie was always going to be there. I was wrong and I miss my friend. I hope he’s at peace.

 

Remembering Liz Taylor

March 24, 2011
elizabeth-taylor

I just saw a blurb that Elizabeth Taylor had passed away today at the age of 79.  I had the good fortune to meet this lovely lady, although under false pretenses.  The story seems to be worth telling, particularly today.

The year was 1981, and Ms. Taylor was in New York to star in the play “The Little Foxes” for which she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress.  I had seen a small piece in one of the tabloids recounting a mix up with her limousine service which had left her stranded at the airport for hours when she arrived in town.  This bit of information turned into my “ticket to ride”.

I had agreed to accompany my friend Paul to pick up his Wife from work.  She tended bar at a restaurant that was a hangout for Broadway people.  It may still be there, but the name escapes me.  As Paul and I entered the restaurant, I spotted Elizabeth Taylor sitting in the restaurant area with Roddy McDowell.  Two gigantic guys, obviously bodyguards, were standing by her table to discourage the curious.  I told Paul that I was going to go over and say hello to Liz, as we had a lot of catching up to do.

“You know Liz Taylor?” Paul asked.

“No” I replied.  “That’s why we have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Fifty dollars says you don’t talk to her or even get near her” Paul said.  “You see those two goons?”

“I see them.  No problem.  I’ll take the bet.  I want a hundred if I’m able to join her at the table” I said.

“You’re on.  I’ll go for the C-note.  But there is no way you pull this off,” Paul said, shaking his head.

“Watch me,” I said and grinned knowingly.  Paul shook his head again.

I began my walk from the bar area where we were sipping beers around to the restaurant entrance.  Both of the bodyguards had their eyes on me long before I had even begun to approach their table, as if they had some kind of internal radar.  As I approached Liz and Roddy’s table, both bodyguards came together and blocked my passage.  A hand the size of a Virginia ham waved me away.

“They don’t want any interruptions,” one of the behemoths told me.  “You should beat it.”

“I think Ms. Taylor will want to speak with me.  I owe her an apology,” I explained.  “You want to ask her?”

“She knows you?”

“No.  She wouldn’t know me from Adam.  Never laid eyes on me” I replied.

“So why would she want to talk to you?  I’d rather you leave under your own power, pal; less of a fuss.”

“I’m the limo driver who hung her up at the airport,” I said. “I want to apologize.  Would you just ask her?”

At that point, Liz glanced up, probably to inquire as to why I was still there.  One of the bodyguards whispered something to her.  She looked up at me, smiled and waved me through to join them.

“It is wonderful of you to come and apologize in person.  With all the trouble you got in the papers, I’d have thought you‘d hate me.  The whole incident was really no big deal,” Liz said, smiling. “Please, join us for a drink.” I could not believe the color of her eyes; almost a lavender shade.  Like nothing I’d seen before; nor since.

I sat down and risked a glance up at the bar.  Paul was watching with jaws agape.  His eyes were huge!

“Ms. Taylor, I just wanted to tell you in person how very sorry I am for any inconvenience you had to go through.  No excuses, I dropped the ball,” I said.

“That’s ancient history and you’ve paid enough of a price.  The limousine company said you were fired”

“Yes, that’s true, but it really wasn’t working out” I replied.  “You weren’t my first faux pas, just my most infamous. It was time to do something else, anyway.”

She laughed.  “Well, I wish you the best of luck. And I thank you for making the effort to apologize in person.  That was very honorable and it took some guts.”

The honorable part was just plain wrong, and I’d probably have substituted balls for guts.  The waitress approached to take my drink order, and I raised my hand in dismissal.

“Ms. Taylor, I appreciate the offer but I’m going to pass on having a drink.  I came with a friend and he’s alone up at the bar.  I should join him.  Besides, he owes me $100.00. I told him I was going to go join Liz Taylor and he bet me it would not happen.  It did” I said.  “If I’m out of a job, I should go collect my money.”

“Did he know you were my limousine driver that never showed?” she asked.

“No, I was less than forthcoming in that regard” I replied.

“That was very clever and a little devious” she said, laughing. “I feel better about your losing your job after meeting you.  I think you’ll be just fine. It was a pleasure.”

“The pleasure was all mine” I said, rising to my feet.  “Have a wonderful evening.”  I left the table and began my return to the bar area, most impressed with how very warm and friendly Elizabeth Taylor had turned out to be.  And those eyes!  On the way, I decided not to tell Paul the limousine story which had made all this possible.  It was much more fun to have him wonder about it.

“How the hell did you pull that off?” Paul demanded as I approached, his brow furrowed.

“I really can’t explain it, you know?” I said.  “Sometimes people just seem to connect.”

Liz001

Photographs by Google Images

Remembering Al

December 3, 2010

I don’t really recall how Al Bruno and I met. Al was two years older than me and had been sent to military school, so it was not High School. I seem to remember Hogan’s Pub as the first place we spoke. We hit it off right away, both of us being blessed, or cursed, with a rather bizarre sense of humor. I was home from college for the summer, the Stones album “Let It Bleed” was our soundtrack, and everything was loose and cool. We became almost inseparable when not with our lady friends, and it was a time of beaches, beer and warm summer nights. Things were less complicated then.
No one has ever made me laugh like Al did. One afternoon, we rented a rowboat from Louie’s dock to go fishing. Armed with sandwiches, lots of beer, sand worms and poles, we set out into a perfect August afternoon. We drank the beers, ate the chow and got good and sunburned. Never even had a nibble on our hooks and could not care less. When the beer and food was gone, I suggested we head back to the dock. I said “too bad we didn’t bring any saltines, there are lots of sand worms left.” Al’s reply was, “Jesus Christ, that gross. I hate saltines.” There are a million Al stories I will tell, but I’m going to do them over time, taking one at a time. Al Bruno can hardly be summed up in this brief passage. He possessed blazing intelligence, but I wonder how many people who knew him really were aware of this. His humor was of the rare variety that went over the heads of most of his audience. My late Mother, an extremely bright woman herself, saw the real Al and loved him and his idiosyncrasies. My Father found him baffling. One evening when Al and I were preparing to go out after visiting with my folks, my Father commented quietly that Al was not playing with a full deck. My Aunt Gwen, who was visiting and quietly observing, said “You may be right, but if anything, that guy has too many cards.”
I graduated from college, and Al and I decided to share an apartment. It was a mistake . We were too much alike to be around each other 24/7, and it wasn’t long before the traits we’d found fun became aggravating. We separated on fairly bad terms and Al moved out of town. I ran into him in a bar many years later. He seemed to be with a client or business associate, and was none too glad to see me when I went up to say hello. I didn’t push it. I lost track of him, heard he’d moved to Texas, and then nothing. I was too proud to seek him out. Shame on me.
My friend Tim called me two nights ago to tell me Al Bruno had passed away that day. My first thought was that the World had become a less interesting place without Al Bruno in it.