Growing up in Hudson in upstate New York in the 50’s, I was one of four Jewish kids in a class of 150. My grandparents were Orthodox and my minority status made me all the more serious about my religion. Labeled a bookworm, I was an intense student with a hidden, but equally intense fantasy life nourished by soap operas and dramas.
I adored Bonanza’s Lorne Greene. His age—he was 30 years older than I— enhanced his appeal. Also, Lorne Greene and my Dad looked so much alike that strangers would stop my father on the street and ask him for Greene’s autograph. Years later, I learned that Greene was born Lyon Himan “Chaim” Greene, and my crush made even more sense.
As I grew up, most of my friends fell in love with football players possessing ruddy complexions and well-defined muscles. I swooned for brainy men with well-defined opinions who were supportive of my career ambitions.
Alas, I didn’t meet any of these men until I came to New York at age 21, where I worked hard to make up for lost time. There, I met the men who became my mentors, sexual and professional. They ranged from Alan, the 45-year-old advertising executive who I met over a rugelach at a funeral reception. We had sex every day of the three months we were together.
Then there was Jay, a television scriptwriter who was 30 years older than I. He wrote a million dollar bestseller and wore a pacemaker, so I called him, “Everready.”
Al was 70. I was 35. An entertainment lawyer with a list of celebrity clients, he was a short, paunchy, bespectacled, fragile man. We spent many afternoons holding hands in Central Park or in his elegantly designed office, fooling around while his three secretaries sat outside his door.
In my 40s, I questioned where my older Jewish man fetish came from. It wasn’t hard to figure out. These men were powerful versions of Lorne Greene’s Bonanza’s character, lassoing his calves, and my Dad, Sam Jackowitz, urging me to study harder and reach higher. I hoped that in my intimacy with them, their power would rub off on me. There was only one problem: I loved women and no longer needed men to pursue my dreams.
Sounds complicated, perhaps, but, fortunately, I was able to sort it all out. Barbara and I have been together for nearly 30 years and married for two. However, my attraction for these men and what I learned from them were in no way diminished.
At a certain point, it doesn’t matter. Let me explain.
Recently, walking west on 59th Street and Central Park South, I saw a tall, handsome man dressed in khaki pants, wearing tortoise-shell glasses and a pale blue shirt open at the neck. He carried a briefcase and was coming toward me. He had a nice smile, walked purposefully and with gusto. I loved his thick white hair, which I could instantly see running my fingers through.
It was a nanosecond before I was sure he was my former professor at Hunter College’s Writing Center, whose new book, his 19th, was just released. The man had an amazing sparkle in his eyes, just as I remembered from two years ago.
I feared he wouldn’t recognize me. Why should he? I’m one of hundreds, if not thousands, of admirers. An accomplished playwright, a writer of short stories and novels, he scripted an Oscar-nominated film, “Splash,” that starred Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah. I looked like hell, but I couldn’t resist approaching him.
“Hi,” I said. “You might not remember me” and told him my name.
I was going to say more, mention where he knew me from, but he said, “Oh, sure, how are you?”
“Great, thank you,” I stammered. Like a blushing teenager, I blurted out, “I was thinking about you earlier this morning.”
“Really?” he asked quizzically.
I remembered he had commented positively on one of the essays I submitted in class and how honored I felt. But, rather than thank him again, I said, “I read you had a new book out. I haven’t had a chance to read it; otherwise, you would have heard from me,”
“I’ve been on tour with it,” he said.
“Are you doing any book signings? I would love to attend one.”
“Oh, sure. Just email me. By the way, you might not know that I recently became the head of the Robin Hood Foundation.”
Of course, I knew of the foundation, one of the most prestigious in the city, if not the country.
“I didn’t know. Congratulations. That’s so exciting.” In my effusiveness, I kissed him on the cheek. He smiled. “Thanks very much.”
Wanting to make another connection before we parted and in the spirit of competition, I said, “Perhaps, you didn’t know that I headed up a cancer research foundation at Mount Sinai Hospital for a number of years.”
He nodded again, as if he recollected.
“You look like you’re in a hurry, so I won’t keep you. Again, congratulations,” I told him. “I don’t want to forget. What’s your email address?”
He gave me his card. We said our goodbyes and walked in opposite directions. I glanced down at the card in my hand. The name was Reynold Levy. Reynold Levy? Who was that? I thought he was Bruce Jay Friedman. Whose email address had he given me? His agent? His publisher? Then, I had an epiphany. He, the man I met on the street, was not my professor, but rather the Reynold Levy, the former head of Lincoln Center, a successful cultural and iconic leader, who I’d heard speak on a number of occasions, but never had spoken to.
When I got home, I Googled them. Yes, I was right. Bruce Jay Friedman had just published a book, and, yes, so had Reynold Levy. They, both, had major successes, exuded confidence, and possessed a vulnerable demeanor. They were the Lorne Greene’s of my mature years, with similar physiques - equally virile – equally successful, sensitive and their intelligence was written into their faces.
Bruce is in his eighties, Reynold in his seventies. I wish I had known them years ago. There might have been decades of friendships, conversations and, who knows, perhaps, even a love affair.
Bruce, Reynold, Bernie Sanders or Larry David. I’d know him – or them – anywhere.
Ann Jackowitz writes and lectures on issues surrounding social injustice, gender inequality, LGBT and minority women, fundraising, and breast cancer advocacy.