My father died when I was two years old, and my mother remarried four years later. In the interim, while I was fatherless, I hoped my mother would marry a man with a mustache. I'm pretty sure this interest in mustaches had to do with Herbie. Herbie was a sort of father surrogate, but unattainable, I knew, as a real father. He was a friend of the family and the husband of my mother's friend Penny, who owned a women's clothing store, Penny's Little Shop. Dark and mustachioed, Herbie had a kind of Latin lover look about him, though he was Jewish. Herbie spent a lot of time at our house because he drove for a limousine service and often had time off during the day while his wife was at the store. Herbie used to come over to dance the cha cha cha with my mother. There is an 8-millimeter home movie of me and my mother and Herbie doing a cha cha cha a trois. I even remember one of the records, "Tea for Two" with a Latin beat. I liked Herbie a lot, but since he was unavailable I went looking for mustachioed fathers elsewhere.
Whenever I was out with my mother and saw a man with a mustache, any man with a mustache, I would go up to him and ask, "Will you be my new daddy with a mustache?"
My mother found this very embarrassing. "You'd ask anyone with a mustache," she told me years later, "young men, old men, store owners, construction workers. I remember, we were once in a cab and you asked the driver if he'd be your new daddy with a mustache. A colored fella!"
My mother remarried in 1962, when I was six years old, thereby sparing herself further embarrassment. My stepfather didn't have a mustache, but he had a big nose.
I visited my mother, a widow again, in Florida a couple of weeks ago. I decided to ask her about a suspicion I've always had.
"Were you having an affair with Herbie?" I asked her.
"No," she replied. "He was a good-looking guy, but he wasn't my type." Then she added, "I think he drove for the mob."