twenty-second of April represented the completion of
Ms Keogh's fiftieth orbit around the sun. Ms Keogh,
my more significant other, had climbed out of bed
much too early that morning and had occupied herself
puttering around the house until I came home from
work. I work the graveyard shift, midnight to eight.
I left my job a bit early. On arriving home, we
bathed together. Bathing together is not unusual for
us, not even after sixteen years of marriage and both
of us in our fifties. We finished cleaning ourselves
and climbed into bed to nap. She said not to do
anything special for her birthday except spend the
day with her and join her for lunch at Le Bec-Fin!
Nothing special!? Le Bec-Fin is the only restaurant
in Philadelphia with Mobil's maximum five-star rating
- Manhattan has four five-star restaurants. We set
the alarm clock, and it woke us in time to dress and
to reach downtown for our reservations.
I am not a clotheshorse. The loose drape of fine
cloth is wasted on my squat body with its broad hips.
In a recent phoenix-like passion of resurrection, I
had discarded all my brown shoes (donated actually)
for being uncomfortable. My feet have grown larger in
the last decade. I had every intention of buying new
brown shoes, but had not yet gotten around to it.
Comfort is my primary concern and I keep to neutral
colors that almost go with everything. For a Le
Bec-Fin lunch I had dressed in tan slacks and a
sports jacket. Atop my head was my brown fedora.
While I had on the appropriate brown belt, my shoes
were some nameless color of brown-green approaching
black. It bothered Ms Keogh, and me a little, that I
didn't have brown shoes to go with my brown belt.
After we had reached downtown and parked, we searched
a few local shoe stores before our reservations for
lunch, but we didn't find any shoes mutually
This was our first visit since Chef-Owner Georges
Perrier reworked the narrow interior of the main
dining room, converting the formal Louis XVI décor
that left one feeling a bit stiff, to a more
celebratory "turn-of-the-century Parisian dining
salon" that made at least me feel less
self-conscious, not needing to quietly mumble and
The food was, or course, superb, but has been written
about many times by others more qualified. What
little French stumbles off my tongue is enough to
humiliate me, but the gracious staff at Le Bec-Fin
never let me feel uncomfortable.
Ms Keogh began with a white and green asparagus
salad, which included a squash blossom stuffed with
lobster. I had the duck terrine with pistachios and
served in a fig sauce. For our main entry she had
monkfish with avocado coulis. I enjoyed the veal. The
desserts were outrageous. They pushed to our table a
three-decked cart with about two dozen desserts. We
were invited to as many as we wanted. I had the Grand
Marnier soufflé and a slice of the pear tort. I
cannot now recall what Barbara had, only that she
also requested a dessert not found among the many,
crème brûlée, which the kitchen was kind enough to
After lunch, nourished and content, we decided to
stroll about the City of Brotherly Love. We found our
way to Joseph's Shoes Inc., a small shop of fine
men's shoes that I remembered visiting regularly over
the last twenty years - which is truly an
accomplishment because the store is only ten years
old. To one side was a single seat dedicated to the
art of the shoeshine. The shop sold the shoes I
loved, Allen Edmonds, the Lexington model, which is a
cap-toe blucher, the cap-toe decorated with
perforations, the leather stained mahogany brown.
They were twice the price I have ever spent for
shoes, four times what I usually pay. Ms Keogh wanted
to buy them for me - for her birthday!? I tried them
on and walked about the store. They were truly
wonderful, but I could not allow the extravagance.
We left the store, but we had not wandered very far.
I was obsessing. It swallowed me up, the desire for
the shoes, and just knowing Ms Keogh was prepared to
buy them, I had only to acquiesce. It became more
than I could bear. After wandering aimlessly in the
vicinity of the shoe store, I decided to allow her.
She wanted to do something nice for me because, she
said, at fifty she reflected on the part I have
played in her happiness. She wanted to show her
appreciation for the twenty years of felicity. How
wrong of me to deny her this pleasure. I decided I
could be gracious and accept this gift. After all, it
was her birthday.