How can I be sure?
The Young Rascals asked that, and, happily, Eddie Briganti ultimately sang, “I’m sure with you.” But how could I be sure? I really, really, really wanted to know. I thought about it a great deal. And I asked a lot of people. I never came up with a good test or formula. The old timers I spoke to told me that when you meet the right girl, you know it, you feel it, there’s no doubt, you’re absolutely certain: you’re sure. Everyone seemed to agree. But I had never felt that, so I wasn’t so… sure.
My friend Bob called me one afternoon with a matter he wanted to refer to me. A woman had walked into his office looking for an attorney to sue her landlord and his plumber after a broken pipe flooded her flower shop. She was still there, and he wanted to set up a meeting for me at her store. And then he did, right then and there, before I even had a chance to think. He swore I wouldn’t be sorry. “It’s a good one.”
When I got to the store, my new client wasn’t there. Her dad was. He took me in a back workroom filled with flowers, and we sat down at a table. The setting sun beamed through the plate glass window behind me, illuminating bucket upon bucket of white roses. He was chewing my ear off when she walked into the room, in the light, in front of me — surrounded by those roses. Her eyes were as blue as the sky and shining. Her skin was glowing, her smile was luminous. She was just beautiful. I felt that “shock to the heart” the Italians speak of. And although her dad kept speaking, I simply didn’t hear him anymore. My date book says, “March 21, 2002: Larissa-5:30, Oz. Pk.”. But I really don’t need it — I can’t forget the time or place.
I had a mad crush on Larysa (whose name I had learned to spell correctly) from the moment I first saw her. And the more I saw her, the worse it got! We had a few court appearances that spring, and we would chat in the hall before we entered the courtroom. To my delight, we seemed to think the same way about pretty much everything! And believe me, we talked about a lot of things.
I kept my crush to myself until mid-summer. Then Larysa came to my office to drop off a check. She had her hair pulled back, and she was wearing a robin’s egg blue prairie dress. She looked lovely. We talked a short while and I walked her to the door. Then I turned to Maryellen at reception, who always asked me what kind of gal I was looking for, and said, “that’s the kind of gal I should be with.”
Maryellen said, “then just ask her out,” but I explained that she had a boyfriend, that he was sick, and that she took care of him. I said she was like a saint with this guy, who couldn’t even work. She replied, “or doesn’t want to. You know that can get old. Keep your ears open.” I did. And for the next few months, what I heard was Maryellen buzzing me on the intercom, and kind of singing, “it’s Larysa Pinkava on the phone.” I always took those calls.
Sometimes Larysa called the office on Sundays. She would be at her folks, and would call with “a quick question.” Somehow, we would wind up on the phone for an hour, talking very little about her cases, and a lot about our families. And that would almost make working on a weekend worth it.
By the fall, I was in court with Larysa and her dad regularly on her cases. Like twice a week. More than enough time for each of us to tell our “life story.” These court appearances were really special to me, just because I got to be with her in the hall! The marble benches were cold there, even though the hall was flooded with sunlight, so I always gave her my coat to sit on. And I always stared into her beautiful eyes, beaming sky blue in that sunlight. One time, the court officer, an old timer Larysa used to give candies to, caught me and whispered to me, “I don’t blame you, she’s a real looker.” Another time my colleague Adam watched her walk up the aisle in her skirt and boots and said to me with a wink, “that’s some client you’ve got there.” And he was right.
Oddly, as this was occurring, I was ordering flowers from Larysa to send to gals from San Fran to the Hamptons! She asked me about all of them, and I always told her the truth: “Going nowhere. We don’t want the same things.” One time, I told her about an unusual telephone call I had with a gal I was being fixed up with. This gal said, “I’m tired of wasting my time. Before we even meet, I want to know what you want out of a relationship.”
So I told her. “I want to fall in love, get married, have a baby, and name it Lenny, if it’s a boy.”
She was silent. After maybe a minute, I spoke again, “of course those things have to happen exactly in that order, and nothing can be rushed.”
She was silent for another good minute, and then said, “I have to go. I’ll call you back.” I never heard from her again.
Larysa declared that that girl didn’t actually know what she wanted! And she told me that she herself did. I couldn’t wait to find out what.
After a while, Larysa started joking with me in court about my “power suits.” And giving me nicknames. My associate Tom swore this was flirting, but I didn’t think so. Then she and her dad joined me for lunch after court around Halloween, and she just reached over and took some waffle fries off of my plate. Without even asking! I scrunched up my face and looked at her. And she looked me right in the eye… and giggled! So I wondered. But I kept hearing about this boyfriend.
Then the weekly court appearances stopped. I was shattered. I had to think fast. And it came to me: there were all these papers still to sign. So I offered to bring them to the flower shop for her to sign… on Saturdays. And she was ok with that. Whew! That got me a few Saturday afternoons alone with her in the store. I actually thought hard about what I wore for these. Let’s change the “power suit” perception. Flower shop chat was sometimes deep. “What do you want in life? Marriage? Kids? What kind of home life?” Well, it turned out we wanted all the same things! But flower shop chat was also sometimes plain, old fun: “What’s a perfect weekend night for Lenny Falcone?”
“Well it’s not perfect if I don’t have a special someone. So let’s start there. If it’s a Friday, we’re both probably tired from the week. Perfect is a couch, a big blanket, brick-oven pizza, Pinot Noir, pajamas, Haagen Dazs and a good movie. Now if it’s a Saturday, that’s altogether different. On Saturday we go out. In the city. All dressed up. All night long.”
She seemed intrigued. And then brought up her boyfriend.
My dear old friend Dom and I went out for coffee every Monday or Tuesday that fall. He knew all about my crush, and her boyfriend. He was my confidant. We always discussed how our weekend dates went. And Dom always heard the same thing. “Ah, she was ok. Nothing special. I had a better time sitting with the florist chick in court. Now she’s special.”
Dom was getting sick of hearing it.
On the Monday after Thanksgiving, Dom went to Larysa’s shop with one thing in mind — find out more about this gal. He told me he walked up to the counter, ordered flowers for his latest gal, and started looking around, intent on talking about Larysa with the gal helping him. He was searching for an angle when he spotted a newspaper clipping with a photo on the wall.
“Pretty gal” he said pointing. “Is that the owner?”
And then, a gift from God.
“Yes. You like her? Stick around. She’ll be here in 5 minutes. She just broke up with her boyfriend. You can meet her.”
Well, Dom stuck around, chatted with Larysa, got his flowers and left on a mission.
He called me from his car. I remember he blurted out, “Your gal just broke up with her boyfriend!” I answered with something like “How do you know…. you sure?” So he explained exactly what he did. He told me, “you’re clear to ask her out now,” and I told him that I would see her soon in court and do exactly that.
“NO, NO, NO!” he yelled. “You call her right now! Now! She’s gonna’ go out this weekend with her friends and give her number to some guy. Then you’ll hear about HIM in court, and I’ll hear you crying about it every damn night. You call her NOW. I swear, I’m coming to your apartment tonight, and if you don’t have a date set up with her, we’re gonna’ call her together.”
“Or you can console me,” I mumbled.
Dom dropped his tone. “Ok, I can see you’re nervous. You’re gonna’ be nervous when you call her. Write this down.”
“Dom, I don’t need help with talking to women.”
He replied “Shut up. This is a big deal for you. You’re gonna’ make too big a deal of it on the phone. You’ll freak her out. Say just this, and exactly this. “You working this Saturday? She’ll say yes. What time do you finish up? Doesn’t matter what she answers. Wanna’ get something to eat after that? She’s gonna’ say yes. I promise. Then you tell her you’ll pick her up at the store, and you get right off the phone. Can you do that?”
I called Larysa, and after a half hour of our usual chatter, I followed Dom’s instructions to the T.
Me: “You wanna’ get something to eat after that?”
It was indeed a big deal for me, so I spent hours trying to come up with the perfect place for us to go. In the city, of course. Maybe the Village. Or Soho. And then I remembered: a buddy and I had stumbled upon a spot late after the First Tribeca Film Festival. It had a fireplace and was lit only by candles, lots of them. Their flickering light made the room seem magical. So we left. This place was too romantic for two guys out drinking and carousing. But I actually did tell myself that night that I would come back to the New Moon on Reade Street someday with a special gal. And on December 7, 2002, I did.
An ongoing love story throughout the month of February, continued in Part II next week.