"How do you feel about going to Philadelphia in November?" I asked Hubby one day back in September.
"Philly? Why do you want to go to Philly?" Hubby asked in return.
Channeling the wide eyed, innocent look often adopted by Lucy Ricardo, I answered, "Oh, I thought we could spend a few days in the city and then a couple of days visiting your family."
"My family? Oh, no. Uh uh," Hubby said, narrowing his eyes at me. "You've got something up your sleeve. There's something British going on. Who's going to be there, the Queen? Prince Charles?"
"The Duke of Wellington."
"That'd be some trick."
"Not Artie. The 9th Duke of Wellington."
"There's a 9th Duke of Wellington?"
"Long live the Duke."
"Okay, I'll bite. What exacty are you talking about?"
"The Duke of Wellington will be giving a lecture for the Royal Oak Society at the Union League in Philly on November 19th. There's a dinner afterwards. We can spend two days in Philly and then drive into the suburbs to see Laura and Terry and Mike."
"Okay, I'm in."
Now it was my turn to narrow my eyes at Hubby. "There's a dinner afterwards. After the lecture. By the Duke of Wellington."
"The dress is business formal."
"What does that mean? I don't have to rent a tux, do I?"
"No. But you do have to wear a suit. Tie. Dress shoes."
"I do have suits, you know. And dress shoes."
"So . . . . you'll go with me?"
"Yeah, I'll go." Who was this masked man?
"Let's try your suits on and see which one fits best."
"We have two months! There's no rush. I'll try them on closer to the day." Ah, now I recognized him. Hubby. Really, I couldn't push Hubby about the suit. He'd just agreed to sitting through a lecture, after all.
"Er, do you know how to address the Duke?"
"Should you meet him face to face during the evening, do you know how to greet him? I mean, you can't say 'Hey, how you doing, man?'
Hubby rolled his eyes. "Save it. Whatever it is you want me to say, save till closer to the day. I just hope it won't be anything as weird as the wedding vows you made me say. What was that again?"
"I pledge thee my troth."
"Yup. That's the one. My troth. Whatever that is. And I still don't believe that anyone else pledges their troth when they get married, even if they are British. I don't have to bow or anything, do I?"
"Only if you want to."
"Well, I don't. Are we going to eat dinner tonight, or what?"
And so I waited until two weeks befor the day before broaching the subject of suits with Hubby again. Obediently, he went and got his two black suits from the closet. After dusting them off, I held one out to him. "Here, try this one first."
Hubby donned the pants and then the jacket. "Well?" he asked. "It fits."
"Yes, but who does it fit?"
"You look like you're wearing your grandfather's clothes. Your really big grandfather. Look how much material is in the sleeves. Arnold Swarzenegger could get his arm in there with yours. Try the other one on. Please."
He did. And it fit like a glove. The sleeves were perfect, the length, as well. Like a glove. There is a God.
"Right. That's the one. Take it off and I'll bring it to the cleaners." And so I did. And then I went to pick it up from the cleaners on Monday. I handed my ticket over and the girl behind the counter started the clothes carousel going round and round. And round. And round again. And then one last time for good measure.
Coming back to the counter she said, "Er, it's not here."
I blinked at her. "My ticket says it would be ready two days ago."
"Oh, it's ready. It's checked in on the computer as having been cleaned and returned to us, but it's not where it should be."
I stared at her a moment before saying, "My husband has an important dinner on Thursday. We're going out of town, with his suit, on Wednesday. He. Must. Have. That. Suit."
"Look, if you give me a few hours, I promise I'll go through every single garment we have here and try to find it. It's here, it just wasn't put in the proper place."
Aside from losing my mind, or pitching a fit, I had no choice but to agree to this. There was no way in the world Hubby was wearing his grandfather's suit to meet the Duke of Wellington.
When I called back, I was told that Hubby's suit was given to the wrong customer. They had been calling and leaving messages on the customer's phone, but hadn't heard back yet. I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. WWAD? For the uninformed, that stands for What Would Artie Do? Breathe. Think. Calmly. I could rush Hubby out of the house and into a menswear store. I could even buy him a new suit. But there would be alternations needed. Inevitably. Alterations that would take more than a day to turn around. It was Monday. We were flying out on Wednesday. As I had no Marshall Blucher in reserve, you'll understand that I then allowed myself to panic.
"We'll keep trying to reach the customer," the girl at the other end of the phone said.
In the end, and in a close call to rival that at the Battle of Waterloo, the customer did return their calls, the suit was delivered to the dry cleaners and I went to pick it up. With about four seconds to spare.
So, Hubby and I arrived in Philly, with the suit, and the next day - the day of the dinner - turned out to be a rainy one. We'd planned on doing a few museums and walking the City, but now had to regroup. It occurred to me that Philly, like most larger cities, might have a Big Bus Tour. The doorman at hotel confirmed that this was so and even arranged for the tour operator to send a courtesy van to pick us up at the hotel and deliver us back after the tour. We were able to see the sights in comfort and warmth.
Betsy Ross's House above and below.
The "Rocky" steps above.
After the tour, we returned to the hotel in order to get dressed for the Wellington Lecture.
"You look nice," Hubby said.
"Do you think?" I asked. "I feel like I should either be holding menues and asking 'how many in your party?' or standing at the front of an airline cabin pointing out the emergency exits. Business formal, indeed."
So, after drinks in the hotel bar, Hubby and I headed outside the hotel to get a cab. None to be had, we were told by the doorman. Huh? Apparently, Philly cabs were overloaded due to the rain. Huh? It rains in London. It rains in Manhattan. There are still cabs. We had fifteen minutes to get to the Union League. Long minutes ticked by with no cabs in sight. I could not believe that I was going to be late for a lecture I'd waited months to attend because of rain. The words "a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" ran through my mind, but I didn't think Hubby would appreciate the similarity.
"We should walk," I said at last.
Hubby looked at me as though I'd suggested getting naked and dancing the samba in the street. "Don't be crazy."
"We are going to miss the Duke of Wellington," I hissed in response. "The Duke of Wellington."
It was at this point that we were approached by a man. "I understand from the doorman that you need to get to the Union League. Get in. I'll drive you there."
I looked over to see that he had a private car. "Really?"
"Yes. Come on. I'm an Uber car. Get in."
We got in. We drove the five blocks and got to the Union League with seconds to spare. I gave the driver a twenty dollar bill and am still remembering him in my nightly prayers.
Reader, we were in time for the Wellington Lecture. Words, I trust, are not necessary.
I suspect that the lecture series was prompted by the fact that The Duke of Wellington has reworked and expanded a book called The Iconography of the Duke of Wellington which was written by a former Duke in 1935. The new coffee table book, Wellington Portrayed, was on sale and you can rest assured that I bagged myself a copy.
When I reached the Duke at the front of the line, I handed him our Number One London card. He was seated at a table, he looked at the card and then looked up at me, taking note of the Wellington miniature I wore on my lapel.
"It's our blog. We've been doing it for about four years. All things Wellington, all the time."
"Really?" I couldn't tell if this was a good really or a cease and desist really.
"Yes. And we did a Duke of Wellington Tour last year and went to all the sites associated with the Duke, including Apsley House and Stratfield Saye."
"Did you visit Walmer?"
"Yes, Your Grace. And Horse Guards." The Duke made no comment, but did sign my copy of his book.
And he deigned to take a photograph with his most loyal flight attendant.
Labels: Duke of Wellington, Kristine Hughes