“I thought there’d be more snow,” my customer said from the shotgun seat — not as a complaint, but cheerfully, conversationally.
Noreen Catalano had the look of a ’60s-era folk singer, with a dark complexion, long, silky black hair parted in the middle, and large, expressive brown eyes. I was driving her up to Stowe for a Christmas visit with her brother’s family. Back at the airport awaiting her bag, she had told me she lived in an apartment in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood — at Avenue B and Ninth, to be exact.
Noreen’s address and physical appearance evoked teenage memories of taking the subway from my Brooklyn home into the East Village to a legendary, now-defunct concert hall called the Fillmore East, run by the equally legendary (and equally defunct) concert promoter Bill Graham. I have zero desire to move back to NYC, but I retain an abundant store of fond recollections from my salad days in the Big Apple.
“Well, there’ll be more of the white stuff where your brother lives,” I explained. “And I hear there’s a big snowstorm brewing for later in the week.”
“Ooh, that would be nice to see, but, unfortunately,
this is a quick, 24-hour visit. Work beckons, as they say.”
“Do ya work in the city?”
“I do,” she said, and I thought I detected a sigh. “I work for a small investment house with about 70 employees.”
“Seventy employees,” I repeated with a chuckle. “A ‘small’ company? That would be, like, one of the bigger businesses in Vermont. Anyway, do you enjoy the work, what you do?”
“It’s funny you ask, because I’ve really been mulling over, you know, my life and where it’s going. I’m good at my job, but I’m not exactly passionate about it. And just because I’m in investment banking doesn’t make me rich, in case you were thinking that. Seriously, I can hardly balance my own checkbook! Plus, it costs a fortune to live in New York City.”
“Well, you’re still young,” I said. “A career change is definitely not out of the question. Have you even turned 30?”
“Thank you very much for that,” Noreen said. “I’m in my forties. I have been painting my whole life. I love it, and I’ve enjoyed some success. But I’ve never really given it a full shot, if you know what I mean.”
We swung off the interstate at the Stowe exit and took Route 100 north. It seemed that more than half the license plates around us were from out of state, which I took as a good sign for the ski towns located 12 miles to the north and 20 miles to the south. And a good omen for local cabbies whose winter revenue stream is likewise boosted by a bountiful ski season.
“A life in the arts is an interesting subject, Noreen,” I said, taking up where we had left off. “It seems to me that actually making a living in music, painting, dance, acting — any of the creative fields — is such a long shot. Tons of truly talented people never achieve a viable career. In my experience, the ones who do make it are the folks who need it like air. You know what I’m saying? Folks with no Plan B, who can’t conceive of doing anything else. And, of course, even with that never-say-die attitude, it also takes talent and luck.”
“I know just what you mean,” Noreen said. “And I don’t know if I’m ready to pull the trigger. To really go for it, to free up the time and attention it would take — well, it would mean, like, getting a job at Starbucks and moving into a crappy apartment with roommates.” She stopped to chuckle. “I should say a crappier apartment. It’s all just such a huge decision. I do really, really love painting, though.”
“Could I ask if there’s a Mr. Catalano? What does he think about this?”
Noreen shook her head and laughed. “If you’re referring to my dad, he just wants his little girl to be happy. If you’re talking about a husband — which I know you are — that hasn’t happened. I was in a serious relationship, but that ended a couple years ago.”
“What happened, if I may be so bold?”
“I don’t really know, to be perfectly honest. He was a totally great guy, but I broke it off. I just couldn’t understand why he wanted to be with me.”
“I guess we have some issues there, don’t we?” I said, my jokey tone making clear I wasn’t trying to get all shrinky with her. “Maybe it’s time to send him an email. Has he hooked up with somebody else that you know of?”
“Last I heard, he was dating this Australian girl. Isn’t that crazy?”
“You mean Australian living in New York? Or actually living down under?”
“No, you got it — the latter. She was living in Australia.”
“That is crazy,” I said. “Talk about a long-distance relationship. I don’t think it could get any longer unless she was living on the International Space Station.”
After a few turns off dirt roads showcasing some of the most elegant and, no doubt, pricey homes in Vermont, we reached Noreen’s brother’s residence — a graceful and understated, white-cedar-sided ranch house at the end of the lane, perched on a ridge at the edge of a large clearing.
“My brother is also an investment banker,” she told me, “but he actually makes some real money at it.”
As we pulled to a stop, I felt the need to ’fess up. “Noreen, at the times when a woman’s age comes up in conversation, I generally take five years off what I really think. So, in truth, I really didn’t put you at 30, but, honestly, you do look about 35.”
Noreen laughed, and looked so sweet doing so. If I was her ex, I thought, I’d drop the Australian sheila in a New York minute and get back with this woman.
Smiling, she said, “Well, thanks again for that, and I don’t really mind that I can’t pass for a 30-year-old. For all my issues, I feel good about who I am. I really