Once a year, we would make a pilgrimage to South Florida, there to visit the Maternal Grandparents. It was there that I had my first brush with Really Plush Quarters.
It seems that there was a couple living in Miami - Don and Shirley - who had been good friends with my mother and Aunt Marge back in 1940’s Brooklyn. In fact, Don and my mom had been off-again, on-again boyfriend-and-girlfriend in high school, long before both of them met the people they would eventually marry. But, as it happens, they ended up going their separate ways (fortunately for me, I suppose); and he and Shirley ended up in Miami, where he did rather well for himself as a speedboat builder and racer.
One day during one of our family’s Annual Pilgrimages, my mother and Aunt Marge decided to pay Don and Shirley a visit. As it happens, Don was away, but Shirley was only too happy to see her old friends. My brother and I got to go along for the ride, and it was then that I learned that, comfortable as we were, there were people in the world whose wealth made our meager little pile of possessions look downright puny.
Don and Shirley lived in a mansion. A veritable fucking mansion.
I can’t even remember how big the place was, but to my pre-pubescent little brain, it might as well have been Mar-a-Lago. Holy Shit. Rooms beyond count, and a garage filled with Extremely Expensive Motor Vehicles.
Marge, to this day, remembers me asking Shirley, “Where’s the golf course? You’ve got to have a golf course here.” It sounds amazingly snotty, that comment, but I can honestly recall making it in complete innocence: if they had all this shit, then why not their own golf course?
It was an Eye-Opening Experience, I tell you what.
I don’t know whether Marge and my mom ever saw Shirley again. A few years after our visit, Don kicked her to the curb and married a younger woman, perhaps a more suitable (in his mind) figurehead for his burgeoning Speedboat Empire.
Bad karma, that. In early 1987, Don was murdered – shot down gangland style. The story that circulated was that he had gotten mixed up with some Nasty People who were in the drug trade – other rumors floated around that he himself was somehow involved in that business – and there are even a few
I don’t know about all that...but what I do recall is that, after Mom passed away (about a year after Don was killed) I had gone to visit my grandmother. It was evident to me that, as miserable as she was over the loss of her daughter, she was almost as broken up, over a year later, over Don’s death. She still remembered him as a young man full of life and promise back in Brooklyn, a young man who was once a good friend – even a boyfriend! – to her daughter. Losing them both within such a short time was a grievous blow to her, probably contributing to her own demise less than two years later.
“Who was this Don?” you might ask. And I will answer. He was Don Aronow, the designer and builder of (among many others) the Cigarette speedboat...and for a while, there, in Miami, he lived in a Big Fucking House.