A pinch of cayenne: Part II

January 25, 2010 at 3:03 AM 2 comments


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Part II

A letter from Ben’s mother

For weeks after I knew that Ben was dead, I couldn’t think about anything else. No point anymore in my wondering if we would ever run into each other. No point anymore in imagining how I would apologize to him for having been so aggressive with him. He was gone.

For the first and only time in my life, I paid for an Intelius search. According to the record I got for $6.95, Ben was born Ben Otto Radomer. He was forty-one when he died on September 29, 1994. His last residence was in Livingston, New Jersey.

I did a White Pages search for any Radomers living in Livington. The search results revealed that a woman old enough to be Ben’s mother lived on Sherbrooke Parkway. I wrote a letter to her explaining that I was an old friend of Ben’s who learned recently of his death. I asked if she wouldn’t mind telling me what happened.

Within a week, I received a letter from her written on floral Hallmark stationary. Roland Barthes‘ close reading of “Sarasate” would have rivaled my own of Mrs. Radomer’s letter:

Dear Barbara,

It was good of you to write to us and for us to hear about Ben.

I am Ben’s mother. Yes, he always brought joy to his family. Now the memory of him and how he lived and loved life and people bring us peace.

He was involved in an accident. Riding a mountain bike in Sonoma, CA on an isolated mountain path, when suddenly a woman riding a borrowed car collided with him — head-on! His head went through the windshield. He lived for 2 weeks after that!

He has 2 wonderful children, a son, 22 — just graduated from University of California — and a daughter, 19 — majoring in nursing at a California university. Ben’s wife still lives in California.

Ben graduated from Stanford University.

Thank you for contacting us.

May you have good health & happiness!

Mrs. Radomer, Ben’s mother

With some concerted online sleuthing, I was able to dig into some Sonoma County newspaper archives to find two homages to “Ben Radomer, sommelier.” The testimonials to the bon vivant who had helped create the Smokewood Tavern in Manhattan, a nouvelle grill on Long Island and a wine cellar at a northern California hotel was consistent with the unconventional twenty-two year old student I adored. I adored him all over again.

Here’s what I think I understand about my feeling for this cipher called Bennett Radomer. He was my masculine ideal. By dint of my own stubbornness or immaturity, he probably still is. The degree Ben got from Stanford turned out to be a conventional enough M.A. in communications, but it led him to a restaurant kitchen, toasting croutons, adding cayenne. He went his own way and I love him for it.

I did a Google search on Marie, Ben’s wife, and found her name on her nursing school alumni site. I also found a comment she made on an online bookstore about Illness as Metaphor. She said she identified with Sontag’s ideas about grief because she had experienced it personally. Marie misspelled “grief” as “greif” and “personally” without two “L’s.” Ben had searched for a simpler soul mate he would not have found in me.

No two Ben Radomers in the world

In August 1994, Ben and his family went boating. Ben started up the outboard motor. When he turned to push off from the dock, the foot of Ben’s son got caught in the motor. After Ben’s death, Marie told a reporter that she had never seen Ben go so crazy before. Their son’s foot had to be amputated.

I’m going to guess that when Ben went out on his mountain bike, he was feeling terrible. Maybe it was the first time he had gotten out of the house since the accident. Maybe he was too bereft to see the borrowed car that suddenly collided with him.

Within a month, Marie was nursing a handicapped child back to health and coping with widowhood.

Not a lot to envy there.

Marie did not get married again. I can see why she didn’t. There were not two Bennett Radomers in the world. I should know. I’ve looked.

Thou mayest eat pronghorn and American bison

The obvious and cruel conclusion is that I was lucky Ben was never interested in me. That mother of an injured child would have been me. That wife who lost her husband would have been me.

But there is another conclusion: I became somebody who understood that Bennett Radomer was not the right man for me. The boy I fell for in college went off on his path, not mine.

For one, being a Jew means more to me than a good pastrami sandwich. I know that in Ben’s world, this assertion would be a culturally recidivist thing to say. Dress it up whatever you like, but with all its crazy ideas about chosenness, and with all its weirdness about not eating quokka and wombat — pronghorn and American bison are fine, whew — Jewishness is a treasure. And while much of American Jewish culture is crass and boring, the religion is ancient and bizarre and wise and wide open for interpretation. I wouldn’t want to give it up for all the herbal tea in Marin County.

Another thing. I did become a writer. Only one novel so far. Some day there’ll be another. You really shouldn’t let anybody make predictions about your heart’s desire.

I did one last online search, this time for Ben’s children. I found them on Facebook. They are two beautiful people in their twenties who have joined the political and social groups popular with their peer group. Ben would have cherished them, the way parents cherish their children, no matter who they are and what they believe. But they are predictable in a way that Bennett Radomer wasn’t. Or so I once thought.

I’m always going to love Ben and I’m always going to know that he wasn’t for me. And I’m always going to know that his wife loved him better than I ever could. She always will.

Note: All names in this post are fictionalized, except for the names of public personalities.

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Entry filed under: Bookpod, Love. Tags: , , , , , .

A pinch of cayenne: Part I Portrait of a revolutionary manque

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