Wood can't say words, or be an actor. It can't laugh or sob, or express human thought or emotion.
I don’t see how my baritone friend Frederick Walden can keep track of all the dames who have shared his furniture and his checkbooks.
I’m sure about one thing, though: Freddie was the one who made the bank deposits. He’s a damn good singer — and, if he has sometimes gotten momentarily screwed up in his personal life, on the opera stage he has been a real pro.
We often lunched at the Metropolitan Club on Fifth Avenue where we are both members. Often he’d just chat about stocks or tell me again how J.P. Morgan got Stanford White to build the fabulous club building for himself and a few friends with no eye to expense.
At other times Freddie seems driven by a compulsion to talk to me about his past that I wouldn’t tell anyone if it were mine. Talking about women he has legally married he looks like a guy who’s short on taste, and never looks before he leaps, or thinks life is a walk through an amorous cafeteria.
On New Year’s Eve, I was in New York standing in the bar at the Club, and who should grab my shoulder but Freddie. He had already downed enough to ward off a whole New Millennium. He pulled me over to an empty table, and promptly ordered another double. Freddie finally got down to what he had on his mind.
“I wanted to tell you I’m getting married Friday morning at the Ethical Culture Society on Central Park West. I want you to come. 11 o’clock sharp.”
I congratulated him and mentioned that I hoped this gal would be Mrs. Freddie for ever after.
“She’s gonna be. Yes, sir.”
I asked him how he could be so sure.
“I have had a revelation,” he said. “Just listen to what I’m gonna tell you. You remember Ashley, the beautiful girl who’s been favoring me the last year?”
I said I remembered her, and she was a gorgeous young woman. “Well, let me tell you the news,” Freddie said.
“She’s the one you’re gonna marry?” I asked.
“Not her. No way!”
“Oh, I guess I just stepped in something.”
He told me not to bother about it — that he had surprised himself with the plans he had just made for the rest of his life. Freddie ordered a tall stein of Urquell, and began to tell me all he’d been up to since we sang together in “Fidelio” in Boston.
He was marrying a singer. I remembered her as someone in the cast of an opera I had sung somewhere. Freddie told me that after he had gotten to know Lucy, which was her name, he realized that Ashley, the gorgeous one, was not for him.
I asked him if all his other gorgeous enamorate had lost out as well.
“Yep,” Freddie said.
That, I guessed, was attributable to his revelation.
“You know, pal,” he said, “I have identified certain patterns in my past girlfriends and wives.”
He said that the similarities in his women went much deeper than the superficial, i.e., the fact that they were all very pretty.
“Suddenly I realized that every woman I had ever taken seriously had played an instrument. They were almost all in the opera orchestras wherever it was that I was singing.
“How did you meet ’em?” I asked.
He told me that during rehearsals he would spot some good-looking gal down in the orchestra pit. After the rehearsal he would see if he could beat her to the stage entrance.
“Did you ever date a girl who played an instrument?” he asked.
I tried to recall quickly some females I had been taken with — then I realized that I had never looked at women in the orchestra.
“The thing is,” he went on, “I have this theory that people who play instruments should never mess with singers. Seriously, I mean.”
“Freddie, you lost me somewhere along the line...”
“Well, you are a pretty warm kind of guy with girls, aren’t you? I mean, you’re communicative ... You’re good onstage.”
“I own up to all the above,” I answered.
“Well Ashley played the clarinet — and she was bellissima. But she wasn’t much on intelligent — or even fun — conversation. Not long ago, I asked her what she thought about when she played the clarinet. She said, ‘The notes, I guess.’ Then she asked me, ‘What do you think about when you are singing?’ And that’s when the revelation manifested itself.”
I asked, “What was it?”
“That Ashley was just a clone of her instrument. A clarinet is just a hollow piece of wood. And she’s a hollow piece of womanhood. There ain’t nothin’ in there. Wood can’t say words, or be an actor. It can’t laugh or sob, or express human thought or emotion. A singer’s voice has got to do all those things. I suddenly thought of Lucy, when she was the Musetta in ‘La Bohème’ you and I sang in New Orleans. I remembered that little moment at the end when Mimi’s dying and is terribly cold and Musetta puts her muff on Mimi’s hands. Musetta sings just three words, ‘It’s me, Musetta.’ But when Lucy sang that, I had tears in my eyes at every rehearsal and performance.”
“Lucy’s a nice-looking girl,” I said.
“Yeah,” Freddie said. “Not a raving beauty by any means. A little on the zaftig side. But there are other more important things. Haven’t you ever considered that, pal?”