Recently I stumbled upon a neat podcast site: https://personplacething.org/. I’m a newbie to podcasts, though I don’t listen to them via ear buds, which tickle and annoy me. But I like some background listening when I write.
On Person Place Thing, the host, Randy Cohen asks the guest to talk about their favorite person, place and thing. This makes for interesting stories, heavy with innuendo, anecdotal poignancy, wit. Actor John Turturro talked about Naples, and the best espresso on the world; how he reveres the Brooklyn Bridge. Another guest talked about the east Village in the late fifties and early sixties, and especially his love for all the remarkable number of bookstores that use to cram the streets.
What would my favorite Person Place Thing be, I wondered? But I’m unable to choose favorites. I abhor someone asking me my favorite this or that. How can I choose one color? One movie? One song? One person? Yet somehow the thought process led me back to a particular person, a friend I had in northern New Jersey when my kids were young. Her name was Susanne Pallette, nee Starrs. She loved her husband Frank dearly (before the messy divorce) but I think she missed her growing up name, Suzie Starrs. She was known to everyone as Sue. Sue was fun, flashy, and okay, occasionally, trashy. Once, at a house party, Frank could be heard laughing and yelling over the din of the crowded room, as Sue danced suggestively on the dance floor. “Go, Sue, go! You can take the girl out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of the girl.” In St. Maarten, she’d flipped her formidable, naked boobs over a sign that read “Nude Beach.” I heard it from a reliable source, who also snapped the memorable photo.
We met in the seventies, at the Junior Women’s Club in West Milford, NJ; we were in our twenties. Sue was petite and buxom, with dark brown curly hair and startling blue eyes that could switch from sparkling to fired up in record time. She drove a red Cadillac convertible that she called Big Red. Sue’s house, which Frank had built, was impressive.
That house, to me, was right out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. It sat atop a steep driveway and had a kidney shaped swimming pool in the back, all finely landscaped. I admit to being impressed with the three bathrooms. The master bedroom bath had lime green tile, with black edging, and a black sink. I once took a shower there and used what I thought was shampoo in an unlabeled plastic container. I knew the minute the smell hit me; it wasn’t shampoo. Turned out to be Top Job, used for cleaning the tiles. Sue fell onto the floor when I told her. The main bathroom was all brilliant white, with two red sinks in a long, fancy lit counter, and a deep, deep tub. A small half bath downstairs, off the rec room (TV on the wall, deep leather couches and oriental rugs) was tiny and perfect, with rust colored walls and a wee brown triangular sink, set into a corner, the smallest sink I’d ever seen. All rooms were spotlessly clean and shining always. Her kitchen sparkled, the counters clean, clear, and sprayed with a counter polish that was popular then; they were slick. Sue's housecleaning efforts were all the more remarkable, given her appearance. Her hair, wavy and curly, was always styled; her nails were long and polished, with wraps, which I had never heard of before I knew her, she used a pencil to dial her fancy French telephone. On Friday, Sue cleaned her house ALL day. There was no shopping, visiting, coming over for tea, coffee or crumpets. Rubber gloves went on to protect the ‘wraps’, along with a collection of buckets, mops, rags, sprays, and various cleaners known only to Sue. She didn’t take phone calls on Friday, though we talked almost every other day.
Sue was a generous soul with family and friends, and completely devoted to Frank and Little Frankie, who was a toddler like my daughter when we first met. Her laugh was infectious, boisterous, with a touch of mischief. She loved to party. She was a devoted friend, following me out to Long Island with my belongings when I moved out with my kids while their father was in Texas. It was a traumatic, scary time. I didn’t know what the consequences would be and how I would live and support them. She helped settle me into my dad’s small log cabin; he had passed on the previous year. She knew that it was a risky, huge step I had taken, and she knew that I was shaky and unsure of the outcome. We stood by her car as she was leaving, and Sue fixed her piercing eyes on me, “I support you all the way, but if you need to change your mind, I’ll support that too.”
This past Christmas Eve, I transferred linguine into a colander with steam engulfing my head. I smilingly recounted a Sue story to my daughter-in-law, “My friend Sue never, but never, drained spaghetti. “Are you kidding?" she'd say, "My curls would all fall out! I call Frank to do it.” I went down to NJ for Sue's wake when she died. Frank was there, he had remained connected to Sue after their divorce and his remarriage. We hugged. Sue had retired the year before, planning to do the traveling she had always wanted to do. It wasn’t meant to be.