Lovers & Latchkeys: Tales From a Greenwich Village Girlhood

Cufflinks, or The Teeth of Gérard Philipe

THERE are eight boxes neatly arranged in the Sixth Avenue window of Kaiser’s Shop for Men, artfully placed next to a striped silk tie (maroon and navy), a cashmere scarf (camel-colored), and a pair of pigskin gloves splayed out to show, reassuringly, all ten fingers. In each box is a set of cufflinks, moored to their satiny base by little white pieces of elastic, like miniature ski bindings.

My father’s birthday is in three days. Do I dare give him yet another set? I agonize over the reproduction Greek coins, gold-plated and daringly irregular in shape. A man’s head is immortalized on both sides of each link. These are my favorite. But for a traveling salesman? I let my eyes slide once again over the plain silver disks with the etched concentric circles, the horse’s heads in “antiqued” pewter, the Aztec serpents in what must be sterling…beyond my budget. I wait for my eye to be permanently caught, for “it” to happen. Then it does. The mother-of-pearl ovals, skiing on royal blue velvet slopes. My heartbeat accelerates as I imagine my father’s eyes widening, his bushy eyebrows going up as he opens the white leatherette box.

The shop window is fogged and greasy in several spots by the time I step away and push the door open. An hour must have passed, easy, since I first began my scrupulous fact-finding mission. But I am sure now. There is no other choice but the mother-of-pearl, shining like the teeth of Gérard Philipe, my latest crush. When my father wears them, he and I will both have reason to smile.