Manhattan in Miniature
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CHAPTER 1

I needed a new refrigerator; there was no doubt about that. But I didn't expect to have so many choices. I stood in the appliance section of the store, in front of the current selection of models. Should I buy the tall white two-door or a similar style in black with an ice maker? I was also attracted to a French-door window arrangement in a wood-like shade, and the bottom-drawer-freezer stainless steel model next to it. I had already ruled out the old-fashioned one-door in avocado green that reminded me of my first kitchen in the Bronx back when Ken and I were newlyweds. I wasn't planning on redecorating to that extent.

In the end, I decided to buy them all, including a boxy yellow throwback with its motor on top that had fallen behind the others. You could never have enough appliances to fill all your dollhouses or miniature room boxes.

"What about the restaurant-kitchen room box we're making, Grandma?" Maddie asked. "Shouldn't we buy two of the big stainless steel fridges so we can put them side by side?"

"Good idea," I said, as Maddie threw another silvery fridge into the wire basket she carried. Maddie was my mini-Sherpa in more ways than one.

We headed for the checkout counter at SuperKrafts, Lincoln Point's first crafts store. My English-teacher background had finally stopped rebelling at the gimmicky spelling, and I was able to enjoy the store's great collection of supplies for lovers of crafts of all kinds. Maddie and I had a clear shot at every shelf and bin of merchandise, with few other shoppers, most of whom were focusing on supplies for Christmas ornaments and fabric stamped with sleigh bells or Santa and his reindeer. I'd convinced my eleven-year-old granddaughter that earlier was better on a Saturday so close to Christmas if we wanted to beat the crowds. We stopped on the way to checkout and admired the new decorations to celebrate all the December holidays.

I was glad to be done with the Thanksgiving theme, which had been carried out with six-foot-tall turkeys, massive ears of plastic corn, and giant cornucopias. I doubted anyone ever called an oversized pilgrim "cute." Maybe I'd offer to help decorate next year and add a miniature Thanksgiving table to the mix. Why anyone preferred larger-than-life to smaller-than-life was beyond me. When an item was enlarged, so were its warts and imperfections. But shrink the world into a scale of one inch, or less, for every real-life foot, and you had nothing but cute. Like the seven refrigerators I'd be taking home today, all under six inches in height. I couldn't wait to stock the one-inch freezer shelves with half-inch cartons of ice cream.

Jody, today's sales associate at SuperKrafts, peered into our basket. "Do you need any stoves or sinks to go with?" she asked.

"We have a ton of those," my granddaughter answered, emptying the basket onto the counter. The assortment of little wooden, plastic, and metal refrigerators, toppled out, joined by a few accessories Maddie had picked up for her own miniature project. "I'm doing a skating scene," she explained. "These pipe cleaners are for the trees. And Grandma and I are making a mini-restaurant where you can see into the kitchen in the back. That's why we need these." She pointed to the stainless steel fridges. "I'm making the tables out of cupcake holders, the ones where all the pleating looks like a tablecloth."

Too much information, I figured, but Maddie supplemented her explanation with hand gestures until Jody nodded her appreciation.

Jody ran our items across the magic red scanner, pausing now and then for a judgment of "cute," or "adorable," supporting my theory of miniatures. I was ready to write a check for the amount displayed on the screen, when a loud voice interrupted the transaction.

"Hold it, Jody." The directive came from a woman in a red apron that clashed with her chemically enhanced hair color. Bebe Mellon, my friend and the store manager, rushed down an aisle toward us. "Don't forget to give Gerry the special discount," she ordered.

"Goody," Maddie said, as if she herself had toiled for the money we'd spend.

"Your grandma earned it," Bebe said, ruffling Maddie's red curls, a shade darker than Bebe's, but home grown. "We probably wouldn't even be in business if it weren't for her."

"Thanks to Skip, not me," I said, giving due credit to my homicide-detective nephew for straightening out some problems that had befallen SuperKrafts in general and Bebe in particular, during its early days in town.

While Jody wrapped and bagged our purchases and Maddie gave a running commentary on the use of each item, Bebe pulled me aside. "Guess what, Gerry. I've been invited to staff the SuperKrafts booth at the big show in New York City. It's the biggest crafts fair on the East Coast. They get, like, three hundred vendors from all over the world. This year Corporate wants us to highlight the expanded miniatures sections in their regional stores. Like ours." Bebe waved her arm toward the area of the store where Maddie and I had spent most of our time.

"That's very exciting, Bebe. What exactly will you be doing?"

Bebe's face lit up as she answered. "My partner and I will be setting up our display, of course, and we'll be part of all the raffles, like almost every hour during the day. A lot of lucky people will win room boxes. And, of course, we'll be selling supplies, with special deals for crafts groups and small, independent crafts stores. Plus there will be workshops." She took a deep breath, but her excited demeanor didn't go away. "I'll be teaching a session on making a lighted Christmas room box." She took a well-deserved breath and smiled. "See why I'm so wired?"

Bebe had weathered a tough life and had come by this new job honestly. I was happy things were turning around for her. I tried to match her enthusiasm with a big hug. "It sounds like a lot of fun, and what a vote of confidence in you."

Bebe nodded. "Uh-huh. Even though I haven't been with SuperKrafts that long."

"I can see why you'd be excited."

She leaned in closer to me. "Yeah, but the fair is next weekend. Truth is, I was just supposed to help their New York person out with ideas and reports about what customers in California were asking for, but she got sick and they asked me to step in since I already know all the ins and outs. So, I was their second choice. Or maybe even third." Bebe shrugged. "I don't care, though. It's a chance to meet the bigwigs and see Manhattan at Christmas time." Bebe drew a deep, happy breath. "And if I do well, who knows what's in store. Ha, ha. Get it? What's in store?"

"Good one," I said, and laughed, to prove I got it. I made a move to rescue Jody from my granddaughter and steer Maddie home, but Bebe wasn't finished.

"It sounds like a lot of fun, right?"

"It certainly does," I said, with the sincerity of a native New Yorker. Now living in a snow-free zone of California, about forty miles south of San Francisco, I could only dream of the days when I'd skated on real ice in Central Park, window-shopped on Fifth Avenue, stood in awe when the Rockefeller Center tree lights came on. The words to an endless album of holiday songs ran through my head, and I could almost taste the first snowflakes on my tongue. "You can't beat the holidays in the Big Apple," I said, aware of a dreamy quality to my voice.

"Great," Bebe said. "So, you're in?"

"Excuse me?" Between my merry but confused daydreams and my rush to claim Maddie and be on our way, I'd thought I'd misheard Bebe's last comment.

"I know it's kind of last-minute. Well, okay, it really is last-minute. We'd have to leave in three days. This coming Tuesday. But, as I say, it's my chance to make a good impression. And it's definitely a two-person job."

"You mentioned you had a partner? Someone from the company, I assumed. Someone already in New York."

Bebe rubbed her hands along the front of her apron. "I was thinking of you, Gerry. I just left a message on your machine, then I looked out my office window and realized, here you are. It's meant to be."

I laughed at her joke. "I don't think so."

"I'm serious, Gerry. First of all, they're seriously understaffed in this busy season and I can't just take pot luck on the kind of help they'll give me. I told them I had the perfect solution to this last-minute glitch. They've agreed to fly you out with me. Especially once I mentioned that you're the best at this kind of thing, very experienced. You've been running crafts fairs and raffles around here since I've known you. Right?"

"That's true, but—"

"So you'll come?"

I scratched my head. To help me absorb this sudden invitation? "Bebe, I can't just pick up and—"

"Why not, Grandma? Please, please. Say we can go!"

We? I glanced down at the pleading look in Maddie's eyes. How much longer would she be clamoring to spend time with her grandmother? And how many more opportunities would I get to introduce her to the Rockettes before she became a preoccupied teenager, with daily mood swings and major shifts in interest, too grown-up for a show that featured a dance line of long-legged women with antlers on their heads? And what was so important in my life that it couldn't be postponed a week or two? I was hooked.

"Of course we can go," I said.