Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Laura Cerwinske

Patsy Pendarvis was known for her knockers. So, when she came knocking on Gordo’s door, with its fine 18th century burnished brass door knob and gilded mounts, Gordo sat up and took prompt notice.

Gordo ran an antique hardware business known for its rare and superlative knobs. His mother, an interior decorator, had raised him in a home furnished with the finest continental furnishings and extraordinary interior detailing, but most of all, with an acute understanding of how “hardware is the jewelry of the room.” This is why Gordo’s knobs were so nice -- because of how completely he grasped the significance of touch. The knob is the most tactile of all hardware. When it comes to touch and to the man, Gordo himself, only the nicest will do.

This, too, is why Patsy Pendarvis was such a revelation. Here she came with her fancy knockers thinking she was just the Queen of the May. And she was! Especially with those knockers. Beautifully proportioned as in the Georgian style. Yet with the merest grace note, too elusive to be baroque, yet not quite near to Renaissance.

Patsy Pendarvis was pretty jolly for a girl with so prodigious
a pedigree. She came by her knockers naturally. Her mother had been born to a family of French courtiers with ties to the House of Balencieaga. Her father was a silversmith for the great Swedish silversmith Georg Jensen. Patsy, although raised in so rarefied an atmosphere, nonetheless possessed a constitution that was oddly robust.

This was fortunate in light of her previous relationship to a “bounder,” as her family had called him, a man on the run, a man to whom running was second nature. His urge was known to begin somewhere between his groin and solar plexus, and could be described as a driving compulsion to take off. To find the next thing. To get out of Dodge. Patsy had been the longest run of his life.

Well, that was over. And now it was Patsy and Gordo and their grand dreams.

Their moment of formal reinvention would occur in a dazzling dew-struck garden beneath a pergola crafted by Gordo himself, an intricate architecture of knobs and knockers. He soldered together in an open basketweave pattern original brass, glass, gold plate, silver, and gunmetal elements along with reproductions in styles of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The pergola was a work of jeweled splendor, an homage to Patsy’s knockers. The event of their union – “joining” as it was referred to it in the world of hardware -- promised seismic rejoicing.  The nuptials were announced via a hand-inscribed parchment invitation in an envelope fastened with a small 18th century clasp. The velvet rope could hardly handle the response.

Orders for knobs and knockers also flew through the doors. Even the Pentagon wanted merchandise, specifically the knob-and-knocker pergola. No wonder. A pentagram was hidden in the basketweave. Gordo and Patsy Pendarvis were ready for a good laugh.

After the wedding ceremony, Gordo and Patsy retired to a gated residential community in central Florida selected for
the elegance of the wrought iron gates at its entrance and the fine hinges and hardware upon which it swung gracefully
open to greet them. Its choice was also based on the community’s smoking policy—one of encouragement.

The community, known as Pandora, was built by the same conglomerate of tobacco companies that had conspired to buy the Associated Press and other media sources as a way to control publicity about the effects of smoking. Pandora was the only town in America where cigarette smoking in public was not only allowed, but welcomed. Patsy, a lifelong and committed smoker, was a connoisseur of Pamuks, a slender Persian cigarette that looked most elegant at the tip of the fingers. It tasted of a dark and smoky richness that Patsy found divine. She refused to be constrained in her smoking just as she refused to end her habit of correcting people, to their faces, of spoken errors in grammar. The most common – and vulgar – of these errors, which grated almost unbearably on Patsy’s fine sensibilities, was the use of me instead of I and its positioning before the name or pronoun, as in “me and J.J.” instead of “J.J. and me.” She first noticed that particular grammatical blasphemy popularized on the TV sitcom “Roseanne” when the Roseanne Barr character announced to her kids that, “Me and your dad are ......” From that moment on she noticed it everywhere, even eventually out of the mouths of classroom teachers and medical doctors. “Oh, Lord,” thought Patsy, “What’s next?”

Well, next came hyperbolic redundancies: a terrible tragedy (is there another kind?), very unique (it’s already superlative!), very monumental (ibid.), completely ubiquitousand the others which the ubiquitously (proper usage) hair-sprayed, uber-tanned newscasters (not to mention weathercasters!) so dearly loved to pepper their reports. The egregious use of such inane redundancies caused Patsy to shield her eyes, as if the grammatical affront might harm her eyesight. She equally deplored the habit of using nouns as verbs, as in, “The meteor will impact the atmosphere,” when the true, original verb, effect, worked perfectly well. Or the linguistic atrocity that was so often repeated during the Olympics, causing Patsy to boycott the television altogether during its two-week duration. If she heard a sportscaster intone, “The U.S. is sure to medal in this event,” once more, she would surely set someone aflame. “You mean to place, you idiots!” she screamed, jabbing her finger across the remote.

Patsy was also quite adamant about such obnoxious overused parlance as amazing (“Meaning what? Beautiful, magnificent, extraordinary, unusual, courageous, heroic? I mean, if I can think of a hundred more precise modifiers, why the hell can’t anyone else!”) Journey (“For Christ’s sake, it’s not a fucking journey, it’s an experience, an effort, a life!”) And then there was that terrible slang for vegetables, veggies. Even television’s master chefs and her own neighbors were drowning their food conversations in it, like some terrible lumpy Russian dressing. The word sounded to her like something only a cooing yuppie stay-at-home dad would use cajoling his insolent children to eat. (“What’s so hard about pronouncing one little extra syllable?” Pasty’d lament, throwing a stick of unwrapped gum at the face of Rachel Ray on the screen. Patsy kept packs of gum at her bedside for exactly this purpose. “Veg-ta-ble, veg-ta-ble, that’s all. You’re on TV, not hanging out a juice bar!”

Friends, acquaintances, colleagues, even strangers were not immune from Patsy’s corrections. She wasn’t a tree-hugger or a political protestor or a campaigner for justice. Patsy’s avocational mission in life was to clean up the language, and anyone who committed a verbal transgression in her presence was in for remark. Gordo had lost a sale or two, one to career-long customer, over Patsy’s insistent correction (right up close in the poor man’s face) of his use of the word
less rather than fewer. “One indicates a number, the other a quantity. Get it straight!”

Once settled in Pandora, Gordo and Patsy set about mapping out their new strategy. Knobs and knockers had been a start, but the couple aspired to empire. The basketweave pergolas had been only a beginning. In appreciation of the obvious, they quickly determined their
new endeavor in Pandora to be, naturally, a line of specialty boxes, Pandora Boxes. The nature of the products they were to contain didn’t much matter since it was the boxes themselves people would want. Gordo designed their hardware: hinges, clasps, and joins replicating those of Napoleonic and imperial Russian presentation boxes. Patsy created the wrappings: origamis of Fortuny-like folds, tied with sprigs of orange blossoms collected from trees grown in their very own groves. They had rescued these trees from the original groves just before they were bulldozed by the tobacco conglomerate to make land for expansion, for the construction of what would become Pandora II. Patsy and Gordo rescued trees enough trees to keep them in orange juice and decorative sprigs for the rest of their lives. Business bloomed.

Following the much heralded success of both the
basketwoven knob-and-knocker pergolas and Pandora Boxes, what could possibly have been left to the golden couple but to have a baby. Patsy had no trouble finding one she liked online – it was available at an orphanage in Bukhara. The orphange had been founded by a sister of the Katerine Order which had been formed in the early nineteenth century and devoted to the production of textiles used in Russian Orthodox Church ritual. Its name derived from Katherine II of Russia in whose court the arts of textile design flourished and from which originated the ritual draping of a priceless fleece shawl over the sarcophagi of popes, priests, Tsars, and Tzarinas. After Katherine’s death in 1796, the Order was convened for the purpose of creating the “shawl imperiale” to be draped across the Empress’s own sarcophagus and, following that, those of subsequent potentates.

From the time of their creation, Katerine shawls were coveted not only for the luxuriousness of their fleece (sheared from Tibetan goats and Siaga antelopes), but also for their elaborate motifs. These were crafted in double-faced weaves – the front and back being indistinguishable. As a result of the vast viewing of the shawl at Katherine the Great’s funeral (attended by monarchs across Asia, Europe, and Africa), word of its extraordinary beauty spread beyond the empire. Ultimately, the garments crafted by the Katerine Sisters became so highly prized that their cost equaled that of the price of 2,000 serfs or as much as 300,000 gold rubles. A less complexly woven scarf might require six months of labor; others involving greater virtuosity commanded as long as two and a half years.

At the culmination of a life of intensive service at the needle, Katerine sisters would be retired to a convent located in a bleak region where blinding snow dominated the landscape, making optical, if not mystical vision irrelevant. For by the time of their retirement, the Sisters’ work had rendered them blind.

The eruption of the Russian Revolution forced the Katerine Sisters to take flight; members of their Order were dispersed across the continents. Some fled to the Houses of Worth,  Balenciaga, and other Parisian bastions of haute couture to practice their arts and, ultimately, thrive. Other Sisters, by various and serpentine routes, ended up in Argentine lace-making studios and Cuban guayabera factories. One found herself employed in the atelier of a Broadway costume designer where she became known as Sister K of Broadway. But it was the blind sisters left behind when the sighted ones fled who, finding safe haven in Bukhara, one of the most ancient cities of Uzbekistan and once a large commercial center on the Great Silk Road, founded an orphanage where they would teach, even within their optical darkness, the arts of the needle. The orphanage was little known outside the Soviet Union until the Communist fall when it became acclaimed in international adoption circles for the skill of its orphans. The Bukharan Orphanage of Katerine Sisters was also the first adoption agency to advertise its orphans online.

Among the top orphans was an impish nine-year-old
with a mischievious mouth and eyes like a dove. Little Osman, as he was called, had tiny hands that, since the age of five, had proved useful for detailed embroidery. Unfortunately, as he grew older, the fingers, knuckles, and wrists that hung from his arms like prisoners to gravity signaled a future of manual forcefulness. The Sisters convinced Gordo and Patsy that a child of nine would be far more suitable for them than a mewling, puking infant. Little Osman held up his paws for their inspection. With one glance at the boy’s digital musculature (the implications of his strength and dexterity implicit), the couple signed on the dotted line and whisked him back to Pandora.

 Little Osman was more than ready to make his way out of the box. He adored his new parents and was eager to please. Within a short time, fed on Florida watermelon, orange juice, and prime rib, he grew to a towering height and showed an interest in working at the forge. With his dextrous fingers and wrists like Sequoias, the boy determined to extend the family legacies and become a silversmith. He set up shop under the spreading orange trees and grew renowned. Pandora Boxes, with their clasps and inlays as finely tooled as any presentation box from the court of Catherine II, became for decades the de rigeur society gift. In no time, Georg Jensen would try to knock them off.; in even less time, Patsy would rebut with a lawsuit.

Gordo swelled with pride when he spoke of his towering son. Little Osman cherished the adoration and the dark pools of his dove-like eyes sparkled. He had made his parents proud. He had also made his parents a lot of money. Not that they needed it. Gordo and Patsy pondered what to do next. Their business ambitions, financials goals, and childrearing more than satisfied, the future was theirs. But then, it always had been.

Patsy determined to open a  School of Grammatical Correctness. She enlisted a grant writer to compose a pitch to the tobacco conglomerate for a subsidy, mentioning that she would even allow her profile picture to include, discreetly of course, a cigarette between her fingers. She had in mind a Cecil Beaton-like portrait of Coco Chanel (before her Nazi collaboration days). Only a curl of smoke rising behind her frothy mane could be seen.

Patsy’s teaching method was, not surprisingly, dictatorial. Handbooks, exercises, rote assignments, and harsh discipline for those who failed to modify correctly. Gordo and Little Osman applauded her. Her program for errant television personalities would have been more successful had the applicants properly filled out their admissions forms. But once Patsy got a look at the sloppy penmanship (no penmanship, in fact, since cursive writing had long been abandoned in public education), she was too enraged to entertain the thought of their admission.

Everyone figured that pack-and-a-half-a-day Patsy would be the first to go, but Gordo’s death, caused by acute indigestion brought on by a binge on the highly spiced Turkish delicacies that had come as a premium with the shipment of Patsy’s Pamuks, preceded hers by seven years. Held in kryogenic suspension until the day when they could be buried together (in casket-sized Pandora Boxes with silver fastenings fashioned at the hand of Little Osman), Gordo was consoled in his state of stalled ascendance by the music track Patsy had installed and transmitted through the kryogenic fluids in his holding tank. The music was an endless loop of Gordo’s favorite recording artists singing, “Knock, knock, knocking on Heaven’s Door.”