They are poppers of champagne, spinners of schmaltz, merchants of romance.
In the war on loneliness, they are generals. The roses they promise are always blooming; the candles are lit for the dinner they plan for us. GEZA LAKATOS
Gypsy music is about the scent of lilacs in a May of long ago and leaves withering now, unrequited love and other youthful follies, squalls of passion and the immortality of the soul. Gypsy songs log an endless passage to the past, and that past is a hundred, a thousand times more glorious than the present can ever be.
"My violin has made many people cry," says Geza Lakatos, 61, "I have also made many people happy. Some of the finest people, and some of the richest people. It's good when you make the customer smile. But people who cry give the best tips."
Born in Budapest, Lakatos comes from a dynasty of gypsy musicians. His father played bass; his grandfathers and their grandfathers were in in bands still remembered in the Hungarian countryside. He began playing the violin when he was 6, and by the time he was 10 he was touring Europe. "I loved to travel," he says. "I loved Paris, Helsinki, Copenhagen. Perhaps I loved Athens most. I almost stayed there."
After the 1956 Hungarian revolution, he crossed over to Vienna, where he played in the Bristol Hotel, "Oh, the very best place." He came to the United States in 1959. He settled in the Washington area in the early 1970s--he has no memory for dates, he says; his memory is for places and tunes. He has played at the Old Budapest and the Serbian Crown--and before that he played in Las Vegas, where he made a lot of money and lost most of it. "I can't resist gambling," he says.
He has found that people everywhere enjoy gypsy music, but he also plays lighthearted French chansons and soulful Russian tunes, hit songs from American musicals and Viennese operettas. Plus Brahms and Liszt. Whatever the customer wants. "What you like?" he asks as he approaches a party --but he knows what they like. "It's instinctive," he says. "And I can tell if the guest is an aristocrat or just an ordinary high-liver, a spendthrift or a ne'er-do-well. Americans like gypsy music. They don't know the words but they enjoy the music.
"I make people remember the best days of their lives. A good gypsy musician has the skeleton key that opens every heart. For some people that key is a joyous song, for others it is a sad song. Some people like to laugh, others love to cry. Behind crying is a stronger feeling than behind laughing. The finest people are those who are happy when they cry. To make people happy is the best job in the world." AMY STRANGE
"I am in a champagne mood," the bartender said to the stranger who asked her what her favorite drink was. He had been eyeing her, drinking beers. "Have one on me," she said, and poured him a glass of champagne.
"What's the occasion?" the stranger asked.
"I just got married," the bartender said. "The day before yesterday."
Amy Strange, 28, is in favor of marriage. Tending bar at Mr. Smith's in Georgetown, she encourages lovers to get married and couples to stay together. "I try to keep the romance going," she says. She praises him to her, and vice versa, and suggests presents they might buy for each other and things that they could do together--bicycling and horseback riding are high on her list.
On occasion, she suggests to a gentleman that he move over next to a lady "who looks kind of lonely." And for the past two years she has kept an eye out for "one real nice customer who needs a good woman. No success thus far--I mean nothing permanent. I don't encourage one- night stands. But I don't discourage them either."
One night, a customer, a married woman with a husband temporarily out of town, asked Strange if she should go home with the fellow she had been talking to all evening. Strange said no.
"But I don't judge anyone's moral standards," she says. "I am happy if I get two people talking and smiling and not having hangups about meeting in a bar."
Strange is fast without looking tense. She mixes four margaritas in 10 seconds; her delivery of five beers in each hand seems effortless. She need not look at the labels; she uses no measure.
"I like being a bartender," she says. "I get to know a whole lot of people. I even met my new husband on the job. He is a chef."
"Congratulations, Amy," the stranger says, and raises his glass of champagne. "Will it be forever?"
"I'll drink to that," she says. JOAN HENDRICKSON
In the six years Joan Hendrickson has been in the video-dating business, she arranged 64 marriages. Filed in her head are the names, recreational priorities and social ambitions of the 400 subscribers to her service.
"I make a commitment to each one of them," she says. "I feel just wonderful when they get hooked up. I wish I could make everyone happy."
But one person she hasn't been able to help is herself.
Tall, trim and gentle, Hendrickson is 49 and left her husband seven years ago. "I am still married," she says. "We just can't live together. I still love my husband. I know him better than anybody. I know the calluses on his feet. We were children together and we grew up together. I had twins when we were 19."
Reluctantly, she concedes that she has gone out with clients. But, she says, she stopped--it's bad for business. What if someone insists? "I put up my defenses," she says. "Being a workaholic is a way of avoiding relationships. I am the worst offender."
The questions pain her. She acknowledges that from time to time clients do say they want "someone just like you." "They loveeme because I give them attention," she says. "I am mother, sister, pal. But I am looking for something else. I am a career woman."
Hendrickson has run The Georgetown Connection since 1977. A client pays $350 for a six-month membership, is interviewed on videotape, fills out a questionnaire and is then entitled to examine all the questionnaires, view six videotapes a month and choose a date.
Most clients are professionals, Hendrickson says, and lawyer is the most common occupation. Average age is 35 for men, 32 for women. On the questionnaire, women are most likely to lie about weight, and men, about height. Honesty is the quality desired by the largest number of clients; sense of humor and warmth come next.
In her office, on the second floor of a Georgetown townhouse, the electronic equipment is sparkling new, but the furnishings are Late Attic: a chintzy sofa, swivel bucket chairs upholstered in vinyl. "I don't want to spruce it up," she says. "It's important to keep it comfortable. It's like home." FAYE CHRISTIAN
"I cringe when I hear the word matchmaking," Faye Christian says. "It's too isolating. People don't always have time to cultivate permanent relationships. People I am interested in want more than matchmaking: education, travel, a chance to meet people in environments they can relate to."
Christian, 36, is an air traffic controller. Svelte as a model and precise as a State Department spokesperson, she has plotted out every detail of her venture: Later this year she will leave her job to manage Array, a corporation she founded last year "to create comfort zones" for single black professionals.
"If you are black and achieved a certain level of income, there are less men to choose from," she says.
She says her group has up to 100 members--"doctors, lawyers, businessmen, educators, 40 percent of whom are males"--who pay a $100 annual membership fee. "They are the kind of people I would have liked to have met a long time ago," she says. "To take the place of the happy hour you wish you hadn't attended, we organize events." The first was held in December, at the Ramada Renaissance: an art show, with lectures on art appreciation and investment strategies. A jazz quartet played; food and drinks were served. An event currently organized is a trip to a jazz festival in Switzerland. On her drawing board is a plan for a House of Array--"a membership club where people can play chess, eat and be comfortable."
Married for five years, with two children, Christian became a professional after her marriage broke up. For the past eight years she has lived in Reston, working crazy hours--say, from 3 p.m. to 11 for three days, then from 7 a.m. to 3, with Thursday off.
Measuring her words ever so carefully, Christian talks about "the painful subject of relations between black females and black males" and "the fact that most black families are raised by females. Marriage can be a wonderful thing for those people who want it. But it's hard. We don't advocate singleness, but say that it's okay to stay single and to fulfill your needs in a manner that's comfortable to the individual versus what society dictated for so long. My mother says I am trying to save the world. But all we do is to enhance selectivity." CLAIRE HARRISON
So what if what I am writing is not War and Peace," snaps Claire Harrison. "I am not trying to encompass a whole civilization. I focus on the rites of courtship."
She is perhaps the hottest local writer of what's called romance fiction, a paperback genre selling for $1.95, and authored by people who use pseudonyms.
Harrison, 36, works under the names of Laura Eden and Claire St. John. She is furious at the news media for "looking down" on romance fiction. If works of romance fiction counted, she says, they would top best-seller lists every week.
She began writing in 1979, and completing a book takes her from six to eight weeks, up to eight hours a day. She does not revise, she says, nor is there much editing. In her last book she was asked to redo nine pages out of 250.
Her latest book--her ninth --is Summer Magic, published by Silhouette Books, and it has sold 500,000 copies, Harrison says. It is a fast- paced affair of Alexa Jones, a red-haired virgin and hard- driving businesswoman, and Adam Carlyle, a rich man-of- the-world. This is how the back cover sums it up: "Adam stormed her citadel, destroyed the walls she had raised and left her aching and vulnerable, asking for nothing in the world beyond his look, his kiss, his touch."
"The question 'Is it good literature?' is irritating," Harrison says. "I want to be entertaining, I want to sell to the masses. Every writer would like to write a great novel that lasts 2,000 years. But it's very hard to publish serious fiction."
She defines romance as a situation in which "a man makes a 100 percent commitment to a woman. Romance has nothing to do with hearts, flowers, dinners, diamond rings. Romance is about commitment--the hero cannot live without the heroine."
She is married to a Canadian diplomat and has two daughters. They live in a house furnished in the manner of a motel room. No plants. "I kill plants," she says. Asked where the romance is in her surroundings, she retorts, "What romance? When I write I don't notice anything around me." CAROLYN STRICKLAND
"We like to appeal to saints and sinners," says
Carolyn Strickland, manager of Saint Jane, a Georgetown boutique selling "the best there is in lingerie." But the saint may go in for a $39.95 silk G-string, and the sinner may buy garters for her wedding: one for $22.95, trimmed with mink and pearls, for herself, and a plain one for $10.95, to throw to the men after the wedding.
Natty in a wool sweater, plaid skirt and sensible shoes, Strickland is 43 and as reassuring as an older sister. "Make yourself comfortable," she says to those who step onto the stores's powder-blue rug and sniff the jasmine- scented air. "Browse all you want."
She says male buyers account for 70 percent of sales. "Therevents." The are more women lookers," she says. "They look at the expensive things but they buy basics--unless they shop for their own wedding. Then they buy $34.95 silk stockings and a negligee between $70 to $600."
A man in a three-piece suit and a leather briefcase walks in, fingers the merchandise for 15 minutes and exits without saying a word.
"This store is better than a skin flick," is the comment from one customer.
"It's all right," Strickland says. "Maybe he'll buy something next time. Coming alone, a man sometimes buys in two different styles: something 'practical but nice' for his wife and 'something frivolous' for a girlfriend. If you make the men feel comfortable, they will confide in you. We suspect something when they ask for two packages."
She says that "a lot of men come in with their ladies, and have her model for them in the back of the store. We give them a glass of wine to relax. They can try on anything except panties." But the store is tiny, and no curtain separates the back of the store. "Some men just love it when other men admire their women," she says. "They don't mind if somebody walks in."
Strickland has been with Saint Jane for a year. "The store changed my life," she says. "My husband now encourages me to buy sophisticated lingerie. I buy as much as I can afford. You could say that I have become a fancier lady." MANUEL RAMIREZ
Chief of Protocol for the Organization of American States (OAS), Manuel Ramirez is that invaluable extra man at dinner parties. He is the perfect escort--a flawlessly correct gentleman and an unshakably firm bachelor.
"I feel a friendship--and I mean no monkey business-- is more valuable than marriage," he says.
A native of Lima, Peru, Ramirez is 58 and has been in Washington for 34 years.
"As an escort you have to be aware all the time that you are an escort," he says. "You have to be devoted to that person. You can't disappear for five minutes or get interested in other people."
Dancing has given Ramirez the most pleasant moments of his life. "I have loved dancing all my life, since I was 14," he says. "I never took lessons. The only thing I have to do is to look."
He is opposed to any permanent liaison, and he lets his dates know "that I am here today and go away tomorrow." Though he has been tempted, he has never seriously considered marriage. "I value my independence," he says. "This way I can go to the moon if I want to."