How Sweet It Was

Lido Spa's sale to a hip hotelier is not just the end of an era -- it's a death in the family

At least some of the bridge players are feeling guilty enough to come to the show. Usually Terry has to spook them away from the card tables, sneak up from behind and shout, "Showtime!" But tonight a few of them are already filing into the rows of banquet chairs by the back door. While the band is still setting up, Mrs. Horsky, as she always does, wheels her walker/chair to the empty space reserved for her in the center of the front row.

There's enough time for Terry to scare up a few more acts while the Hy Siegel Orchestra plays and the boyes invite the ladies to dance. That was another problem this year. As happened with the singers, Terry lost most of her regular boyesover the summer. Alav ha-shalom.She put an ad in the paper looking for gentleman dancers at $15 a night but nobody wanted the job. Finally she had to rely on her remaining host dancer Frank Fitzgerald, a boy singer at Irish pubs in Philly in the 1940s, to bring in new blood. Frank found 78-year-old Tommy, who looks smart in a navy sport coat with gold buttons, and Simon, a bassett-faced 85-year-old who fought with the Red Army in Manchuria. Then there is David, whose wide-open eyes at 88 can look a little lost, but still he has a way with the fox trot. If anyone complains about the boyes, Terry snorts, "So what if they're not gorgeous. You're gorgeous?" Besides, she knows her boyes have made a lot of her goils very happy.

The auditorium is a shimmering tropical wonderland. Every year on New Year's Eve, as the regular guests begin to arrive, Terry brings down her kids or, lately, her grandkids to help decorate for the rest of the season. The theme this year is MIAMI BEACH. Teal and purple streamers caress swaying cutout palm trees. Yellow-orange-green cardboard fish dart among paper flower garlands and enormous silver stars hanging from the ceiling. Strings of glowing pink flamingo lights festoon the grand piano. Stretching from ceiling to floor behind the bandstand shine the numbers 2003.

Dressed in a crisp dark suit and red tie, Hy Siegel hunches over the microphone like Beaky Buzzard in the old Warner Brothers cartoons. Boy, oh boy, can Hy blow that sax, but his singing voice ain't so steady. Kicking off the next number he shouts, "How do you feel about a cha-cha- chaaaaaa!?!"

To the sensuous strains of the Dean Martin hit "Sway," Frank takes the hand of Mimi Goldfinger, the joke-telling New Yorker in a stylish short-sleeved melon sweater, oversized silver earrings, and close-cropped blond hair.

"That frail one," whispers one of the bridge players in the back. "She nearly fell in aerobics today. Doesn't know when to take a rest."

Simon partners up with another New Yorker, the mousy-haired Gladys Kozinn, who gets a charge out of introducing herself with: "My name means happy bottom! Glad-ass!"

Oh, but Gladys's dancing is a scandal. Quarrelsome and vulgar ("Screw you!" is her favorite challenge, followed by the devastating, "You're too fat for anyone to screw!"), Gladys is already the pariah of the Lido Spa; crazy, everyone says, meshuggeneh. But to see the Happy Bottom wiggling away while her poor husband is laid up after a fall at the spa earlier in the week is too much.

"Just look at Gladys," a second bridge player sneers. "Having the time of her life and her husband sick sick sick in the hospital."

At that moment in walks one of the few fellows at the Lido who can qualify as this season's Ladies' Man, a jovial silver-haired golfer escorted by his paramour du jour, an owl-eyed matron with a blond chin-length bob.

"He comes here with one woman and not a day after she leaves takes up with this one," whispers bridge player number three.

"I can't stand to look at him," gasps number one.

As the dance floor fills for "Bye Bye Blackbird," Hy yells, Oh, you're having too much fun! We've got to put a stop to that!

When time comes to start the show, Terry is so upset about the paltry lineup she skips her usual intro. "Don't get too comfortable," she says. "You'll be out of here in ten minutes."

Yet the show does go on, and at some length. Tour operator Gerda Rosner is a good sport, opening with an inspirational reading. "No chair aerobics now," Rosner warns an audience more accustomed to seeing her in the gym than onstage.

At 81 years old, Gerda is a fitness celebrity. A few times a week, at spas across North America and Europe, her classes fill at least 50 chairs with men and women who are most comfortable exercising sitting down. For $25 you can take home a video recorded at the Canyon Ranch that shows her doing exactly the same exercises you'll see in class: lifting and twisting with the long baton; pulling and pushing elastic bands; stretching not-so-elastic muscles.

Three mornings a week during the Lido season, competition for chairs gets fierce. Gladys fires off "Screw you!" Her foes fire back: "You give aspirin a headache!"

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