Staff coffee

To the quirkiest, sweetest boss; the oddest best job ever!
Hypo is Greek for “below, under.” So saith the etymologist. Well, I fell into the unique situation of ‘house emannensis’ for the NGA Film Program quite serendipitously. For a few years leading up to 2014, my better half and I had discovered the arcane pleasures of a gelato (and maybe a small slab of broiled bird-skin on) in the Cascades Cafe, and then further partaking in the auditorium of film fare like “Itaxan,” “A King in a New York,” “Scorpio Rising,” and “Il Gattopardo.”

Yes, these aspects of the National Gallery’s East Wing were truly hypo. Below ground and under the radar a laughing cluster of fountains set deep into a massive plate-glass windowbox gave Cascades its sparkle; the snacks and drinks therein were pricey but tasty. No such charge for the theatre, the films were all taxpayer funded and free!

And babe and I were drawn by the elan of our “Emcee,” Frieda Fox, who ran the movie studies division with a relaxed grip. Her pixelated but truly authoritative mastery of classic movie lore proved irresistible to us – to the point of Babe composing a fairly concise resume and low-key outro letter to place into Frieda’s hands by Valentine’s Day 2014.

I got a surprise call from Frieda the following Monday, with an invite to join her for “staff coffee” in the Cascades the next afternoon.

“You have an impressive grasp of cinema love, John… and I enjoyed the cadences of your cover letter, as well. Growing up in Utica, syntax mattered, y’know…” She paused and elicited a goofy but charming grin.

I murmured, “My cohort actually helped frame the letter — as for movie lore, I was “CINEMAN,” horse movie critic for my college paper the Montgomery Excalibur! We even covered the Kennedy Center screenings of technicolor pioneering works La Cucaracha (1934) and Marlene Dietrich (1936)!

Much to my shock, following a call back — sundown with Frieda and I relaxing al fresco around the lanai at the old Childe Harold (Frieda, big goblet of Riesling, moi, huge tumbler of filtered water), she rose, whispering “There’s little or no pay involved, but you’ll have your own desk and telephone. Landline of course.”

This led me to showing up four days a week adjoining Frieda’s massive and cluttered workstation and sitting in the back row, in the dark, munching on Junior Mints (verboten: no food allowed, technically). One Sunday, the ‘mistress’ paid me (out of her pocket) $25 to fill in for an AWOL pianist, to play the ragtime dances “Smokey Mokes” and “Sounds of Africa” during a French 1923 fantasy silent called “Seashell and the Clergyman.” This led to a private audience with legendary British film maven Kevin Bronlow.

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