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

In the back of the gym, the Ladies' Man and his owl-eyed lover duel with their batons.

Always right up front, ready to pass out elastic bands or switch the background music, is David Nencel, Gerda's husband of twelve years. A retired jeweler born in Poland, Mr. Nencel survived Auschwitz and at 87 is so hale and hearty he may well outsmart old age itself. Fed up with dating after thirteen years of widowerhood, David declared he "did not want to know from women" and fled New York for Czechoslovakia on one of Gerda's Jewish history tours. He fell in love with the German-born tour operator and has been arranging the music for her chair aerobics classes ever since.

This is not the tale Gerda tells at the talent show. Instead she reads the published memoir of a widow who finds a new husband on a cruise ship. "This is not my story," she clarifies, "but it could be." More important, she wants the single people in the audience to know that someday it could be your story too.

Steve Satterwhite
Chuck Edelstein knows from service: Women on a diet, the source of his woes
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Chuck Edelstein knows from service: Women on a diet, the source of his woes

"Never ever give up," she says to the singles.

Bridge player number one harrumphs, "Easy for her to say."

In an exaggerated falsetto, Terry calls from offstage: "You mean there's still hope for moi?"

Owl Eyes leans a little closer to Ladies' Man.

Meanwhile Mimi Goldfinger, waiting her turn to tell her jokes, drifts off to sleep in her chair and scatters her note cards across the floor.

The biggest hit of the show is the comedy team of newlyweds Morris and Louise Cohen.

"Look, I'm a man of few words," says Morris, setting up a gag with Louise. "Do you or don't you?"

Louise gives Morris the once-over.

"I don't, but you talked me into it."

Bridge player number one rolls her eyes: "They're very sexy, these two."

"Yuck," says number three.

At the end of the act Morris, his thin hair standing in tufts all over his head, stumbles over his George Burns finish. "Good- good- night," he falters, then recovers with, "Say 'Goodnight,' Gracie."

"Goodnight, Gracie," Louise smiles.

But the act does not end there.

"This is not in the script and even my darling doesn't know what I'm going to say," Morris stammers, tugging at the bottom of his navy blazer. "Three years ago we were here and I proposed to my darling on Valentine's Day. I had a little ring. I thought it was very simple. If she says yes, I'll give her the ring. If she says no, I'll return the ring. But she said maybe. So I gave her the ring anyway."

Now, Morris wants everyone at the spa to hear him tell his wife he loves her again.

Even the bridge players are won over.

"Never give up," they nod. "Never give up."

Still, it's in the air. These are clearly the last days of the Lido.

Only yesterday

For example: Every year Terry celebrates her birthday at the gala Celebrity Night show. But this year she somehow feels her 78th birthday will also be a goodbye party. Even though she has three closets at home in North Miami stuffed with costumes, Terry goes dress shopping. She splurges on a long lavender gown with a broad flower brocade and lace at the cuffs, telling herself: This will probably be your last gown gal, make it a good one.

Up since New Year's, her Miami Beach decorations shimmer beneath the air conditioning vent like Biscayne Bay at sundown. Her old pianist and dear friend Laura Fisher will join the band, feeling better tonight and looking lovely as ever after a long illness. Everything is as it has always been. Except that behind the bandstand, the big 2 of 2003 has fallen over and is leaning against the 0.

Many, many of her old friends drop in to wish her well after tonight's headliner takes a bow (a big hit from the cruise ships: the very talented violinist and "little Japanese lady" Julie Okah). The best acts who have played the Lido over the years will return, performing for nothing but their love for Terry and whatever liquor and snacks Chuck supplies for the green room. Chuck doesn't come to Celebrity Night anymore. He doesn't come to any of the nightly shows nowadays, except for New Year's Eve. But his big brother Bernie always shows up to give a little speech in Terry's honor.

"Terry's been with us 35 years now," begins the elder Edelstein. "We've grown up together, raised children together. She's family."

Terry picks up where Bernie leaves off: "People always say to me, How can you stay in a job for 35 years? Well, this is not a job. This is my house. I sleep in North Miami and I visit my kids in the summer, but these are my friends and this is my house."

Just when Terry starts to get sentimental, she sees a guest shifting in her seat. "Don't prepare to go anywhere," Terry warns the audience. "I'll be standing in the hall with a stick."

She cajoles the bridge players in the back to move up to the front.

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