'Do you know who Helen O'Connell is?" he asked, as we sat across from each other in his dark, sterile office.
I said I did. I remembered her from a television show in the 450s. Helen O'Connell drove around Hollywood in search of movie stars to interview.
"I suppose her show was an attempt to imitate Edward R. Murrow's 'Person to Person,'" I said, "but somehow the West Coast version left a lot to be desired. The show didn't last long."
He shook his head slowly.
"Then you really don't know who she is." He said it with such disappointment I knew I was going to have to hear his version.
"She's a singer," he explained, pushing his red leather chair away from behind the large desk, twisting it around so that his face became a profile. Tilting back he continued:
"In the '40s, Helen O'Connell was very popular. She sang with the Dorsey Band -- Tommy Dorsey, I think, but I tend to mix the brothers up. Maybe it was Jimmy. Anyway she sang some wonderful tunes, made some very big hits."
The chair made a creaking sound as he tilted forward and turned his head.
"Wonderful tunes," he repeated, "tunes you have probably never heard of."
The way he kept saying tunes instead of songs irritated me. It was a generation thing. My mother said tunes when she meant songs, and although he was younger than my mother it was the same musical era they remembered.
"Two of her big hits were 'Green Eyes' and 'Tangerine,'" he said.
I had heard of neither, but said nothing. "Did she have green eyes?" I asked.
"I'm not sure, but I must say she still looks amazingly well," he paused momentarily to clear his throat, which seemed suddenly to frog up with the memory of Helen O'Connell.
"I saw her last night. She's singing the Holiday Inn, making a sort of comeback." He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"She was just an enormous star in my day," he said, "but all during the time she was popular I never saw her in person."
He looked down at the unpolished parquet floor and shuffled his unpolished brown lace-ups around in a mock soft shoe.
"When she was entertaining the troops, I was a civilian, and when she was singing in night clubs in the city, I was working upstate."
A smile tugged the corners of his mouth. "I saw an ad in yesterday's paper saying Helen O'Connell was singing at the Holiday Inn downtown and I went over."
He held on to the edge of his desk and pulled his chair forward. It rolled easily on its casters.
"I called to ask you to join me but you weren't at home."
I had a strong intuition of what was coming next but waited for him to say the words.
"I hope you can make it tonight for an early dinner. Afterwards, we could go over and look in on Helen."
"Sorry," I lied. "I've already made plans."
His response was a quick but revealing "Oh," and then, "I think this is Helen's last night."
I noticed he had begun to call her Helen. "I can't change my plans," I answered, "but I do have a suggestion."
"Why don't you call Helen and ask her to have dinner with you?"
"I couldn't do that," he said. "I've never met her."
"That doesn't matter," I said, feeling my creative juices take hold.
"Haven't you read stories about lonely famous people who sit in hotel rooms in strange cities wishing someone would call and ask them out? I bet she'd be delighted to hear from you."
Then I listed the reasons why: You're a fan from the old days, which would give you something to talk about. You know the names of her hits, which she'd find impressive, and you could encourage her on the comeback trail, for which I am sure she'd be grateful. Call her!"
"No," he said solemnly, "I'm not good at things like that. I just couldn't make that kind of phone call."
"Don't be silly," I countered, annoyed at his lack of confidence and spirit of adventure.
He reached for the fountain pen on his desk in a marbleized stand with the congressional seal carved in it. He rolled the pen back and forth in his hands.
"Then tell her you're a congressman," I suggested. "That will give your invitation legitimacy."
As I got up to leave he said, "Thanks for the suggestion." When I walked into my house the phone was ringing.
"Guess what," he boomed through the receiver. "I just called Helen, and she said yes."