Monday, September 17, 2012

We stumped the astrologist.

Last January, when Baltimore Style magazine published a self-interview we did with ourselves (that's redundant, isn't it?), an amateur astrologist contacted us. She was super-nice in her note (as she is, no doubt, in real life). Intrigued by our age difference, she wondered what the stars might have to say about why we got together. She asked our permission to char our astrological lives. Sure, we said, and sent her the information we had about our birth dates, times and places.

We heard back from her recently. Apparently, figuring out a 1964 Libra and a 1947 Sagittarius ain't easy.

"To be perfectly honest with you both," she wrote, "I can not make heads or tails of what I see."

Our charts, she told us, have spurred her to acquire more formal training in astrology so she might meet challenges like ours. So, one day we might hear from her again. I'd like that. My curiosity hasn't waned.

Or, perhaps there's another astrologist who would like to puzzle us out, to look into the heavens, and to see how our lives are arrayed.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Strange Bedfellows

Sitting around the little bistro table in our kitchen yesterday, the morning discussion over coffee and the newspaper careened from Clint Eastwood’s empty chair to the resurgent Orioles and then settled on two urgent topics in our household.

Medicare. Pearl Jam.

It’s like that in our house: the collision of ages often makes for interesting table talk.

Although the magic Medicare age is almost upon me, I’ve been avoiding it for months. All those brochures that come in the mail trying to sell me supplemental insurance? Most have gone into the recycling pile. So finally yesterday Michael opened the laptop to and read aloud to me from “What is Medicare?”

After our brief lesson in donut holes and Parts A & B, we turned to Pearl Jam. Michael was heading off yesterday afternoon to the two-day Made in America Music Festival up in Philly, where Pearl Jam headlines tonight.

He’s been a fan for a while. Me? Not so much. But on Friday night he asked me to watch last year’s “Pearl Jam Twenty” with him, which he bought in anticipation of the concert.  The movie  recounts the band’s beginning in 1991, follows its roar into the national consciousness and celebrates its 20 years together.  

I watched mostly as a favor to Michael, but I found myself totally smitten with these guys: their independence, their fierce loyalty to their work and yes, even *some of * the music.

It’s like that in our house: I learn more about stuff I never expected to care about because my younger husband keeps opening the world to me. When the movie was over I told him, Dang! I’d like to go to the concert too now!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Almost Famous: Our TLC moment

We’ve had our Hollywood moment. Whoops! There it went. Did you see it?

No fret. No sweat. I’ll just back up the DVD, press the super-slo-mo button…

The e-mail arrived from “a casting director” in “Los Angeles.” She represented Stiletto Entertainment (stiletto? Knife or heel?). She was on the prowl for younger men with older women to appear in a documentary-style reality show for TLC, tasteful, you know, a “love story,” you know, a “real-life Harold and Maude.”


Anyway, she said she’d read a piece in AARP: The Magazine written about me (which, incidentally, had been written by me about me), and she thought Sheri and I would be great for the show, would I want to schedule a call, chat?

Sure I would. I don’t watch TLC, and I didn’t know what sort of entertainment Stiletto had in mind, but I’m up for adventure, Hollywood cash, and, at the very least, a blog post. So I called the casting director.

But before that, I checked out Stiletto Entertainment on the internet. I expected porn, or street gangs, or street gang porn. I discovered instead that their big speciality is providing talent for cruise ships. Their other No. 1 speciality? Barry Manilow. Older women with younger men? We’re soooo in their demographic.

“We’re more about focusing on what’s going on in your life rather than creating something,” the casting director told me. In particular, they wanted people in an important moment. I thought of my wife’s upcoming birthday (it’s one of those people mark) and how we plan to celebrate–at a resort in Montana. Just perfect for a reality/documentary show, I thought. I didn’t mention this, though.

“This is definitely going to be in the realm of sharing life stories,” she said. “We want to find healthy, happy, successful relationships to show. We don’t want the people who want to be on TV.”

“How much does the appearance pay?” I asked the casting director.

“I’ll get back to you with that,” she said. She encouraged me to mention the show on this blog and to check out TLC’s shows so I could see for myself how tasteful they are.

So, we hung up. And I visited the TLC website. And I knew, right quick, that we don’t want to be on that channel. Virgin Diaries? 19 kids and whatever? Polygamists? How morbidly obese women give birth? One review I read called TLC the “master of the modern freak show.” After watching the trailer for Virgin Diaries, I thought never us, never-never-ever, not in a million freaking years.

Unless the money was right. And by right I mean in the tens of thousands. High tens. Maybe then. And yes, I know that's selling us cheap, but times are hard.

A couple of weeks later Hollywood e-mailed back with the offer.

“Just a quick update, the couples featured on the show WILL be compensated. I think filming would only be a few days where we'd come to you to do more interviews and get a glimpse into your everyday lives etc. I'm not sure of the rate yet as they are figuring that out but I hope this helps a bit!”

Ms. Casting Director, it helped not at all. Compensated? You can be compensated without being paid. Are we talking “tens of thousands” or a couple hundred? Are we talking A GRATIS CRUISE FEATURING BARRY MANILOW IN PERFORMANCE?

I did write back. And we won’t be on the TLC show. But if Stiletto does make the pilot, and TLC airs it, you can bet we’ll watch. And you can bet we’ll tell you what we think.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Band of gold

Yesterday I went to a jeweler to have my wedding band cut off. 

No, it’s not the end of our 19-year marriage. The moment itself was unremarkable: I was shopping for pants at the mall, on my way to a hair appointment, when I stopped in at the jewelry store.

After a short wait, during which I worried more about being late for my haircut than about cutting my wedding ring, a man appeared with a turquoise device that had a tiny mechanical circle saw.  Other store employees gathered round to watch. In less than a minute, the ring was split and slipped off my swollen finger.

Why have the ring cut off? That swollen finger requires minor surgery today, and will probably be even more puffed up afterward.  But isn’t it odd that of all 10 fingers that could have developed a cyst, it just happens to be the ring finger on my left hand? And wasn’t it odder still that I took the ring off when the finger started to swell and then, after a week of having it gone, missed it so much that I convinced myself the problem was getting better and shoved the ring back on?  Within a few days, it was too late to get it off again, despite my best efforts with ice and Crisco. Ouch.

Still, despite that mundane moment at the mall, having your wedding band severed feels significant.  This little circle of gold has been a metaphor of commitment 19 years. Had I been smart enough to just leave it off when my finger grew too big for it, it would still be in one piece, a circle complete. Instead, I’m staring at a gap of air between the gold, the circle broken.

If it weren’t for my mother, I wouldn’t even have known you could have a ring cut off.  Twenty years ago this month, my mom married an older man. She was 82; he was 86. She had been a widow for seven years, and she still wore the thin gold band my father had given her 58 years earlier.  Now, when her new beau wanted to slip his own ring on her finger, she couldn’t get the old one past her arthritic knuckle. So she went to a jeweler and had it cut off.

I still have the two pieces of her ring. For me they represent her faith in the future, her willingness to step off into an unknown land.

I have faith in the future, too. Yesterday, the jeweler assured me that my band could be repaired, my circle completed once again.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Publication Day

Twenty-some years ago, I walked a sidewalk on a Hartford evening, side-by-side a pony-tailed volleyball-playing co-worker. You know who I’m taking about. Among a group of other journos coming out of a bar, Sheri and I nevertheless ended up in our own chat, as we seemed often to do those days. Side-by-side walking. Practice, I suppose.

We talked about what each of us hoped would come next in our own lives. Sheri mentioned Montana, and I allowed as how I wanted to write fiction. Stories. Maybe a novel. I had cockeyed ideas about graduate school, but didn’t how to apply or how much it cost or anything, really. Even as they came out of my mouth, the words, “graduate school,” made as much sense to me as “string theory” does now. I was 26 and clueless.

Some people might have laughed. Some might have pointed out the difficulty of uprooting a life for graduate school, of the cost, of the years given to a pursuit that would not be lucrative and perhaps not even successful. But Sheri listened to a younger man’s quixotic ambition, and she never varied the pace of her steps. And later, when I wanted to move to Arkansas for that mythical graduate school, she still kept pace.

Today is publication day. Twenty years later, my first book of fiction comes into the world.

And I think it is true that the reason I have both book and Sheri in my life is that twenty-years ago an older woman listened to the optimism of youth and made room on that sidewalk for what was unlikely, maybe even daft, and she considered it possible.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Love among the enchiladas

Dorky photo from 1991
Tonight we will drink champagne, toasting 21 years since the night we sat together on a couch in my Hartford condo, looking our future full in the face and saying yes to it.

It was March 11, 1991, a Monday night. The previous night, as “just friends” (we thought), we had played in a weekly volleyball game. Afterward, we had planned to make dinner together at my place; Michael had bought everything necessary for enchiladas, including the Mexican cookbook. But then I hurt my leg in the game.  So I sat with my leg on ice while he cooked. It took six hours. We joke now that we had to grow the corn for the tortillas in order to make it all happen.

Who was I then? My life was full: I was writing a grant proposal for funding to research the fate of American POWs left behind in North Korea, working as a newspaper bureau chief, playing volleyball, swimming laps at the Y, going to plays, choosing a sperm donor, reading both “The Little Prince” and I.F. Stone’s “The Hidden History of the Korean War,” spending a weekend with my sister at Cape Cod, taking a pottery class, watching the Gulf War on TV, and trying to quit smoking.

I knew Michael was 26, but even on that night of the enchiladas, he did not know my age. When we first met, he had guessed 36. Then, after I once mentioned being in college in the late 1960s, he thought, “Maybe 40, 41.”

Who we are today
Back to the enchiladas. It took so long that he didn’t leave until 2:30 a.m. Before he left, he hugged me. He was shaking. The kitchen was a mess. Both of us had to work in about eight hours.

When I woke that Monday, it was all I could do to drag my bad leg in to work. The condo was still in chaos. Egads, a 26-year-old guy had made tortillas from scratch so you can imagine the helter-skelter in my tiny galley kitchen.

That evening, after work, he showed up to wash dishes, bearing a bouquet of purple iris and a carton of ice cream.  And that’s when it finally hit me: This guy is serious.

Over ice cream, we abandoned the “just friends” façade. There was too much joy, delight and exhilaration. We felt safe. Comfortable. He gulped only once when I said, “43.”  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lucky 17

The fact that Jeremy Lin wears number 17 just makes me like him that much more.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Last Movie from the 70s

Marlon Brando had stuck his gum under the railing of a Paris balcony and died. His lover/murderer was practicing her lines for the police (“He followed me home; he tried to rape me; I didn’t know his name”), and Sheri said, “Well, I think that’s the last movie we need to watch that I’ve seen and you haven’t.”

It was Last Tango in Paris. Prior to this, we’d watched Hud and Cool Hand Luke and Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Taxi Driver. All were movies that had a profound effect on Sheri when she’d seen them in theaters; most I’d been too young to see.

For both of us, several seemed dated. Easy Rider was awful. Butch and Sundance is marred only by the longish “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” bicycle ride. Even bits of Taxi Driver seem too much of their time.

Here’s my definition of a classic movie and an iconic movie: The Godfather, released the same year as Last Tango, is a classic, because  its art gets closer to saying things about the human condition that are always true.
Even the font is dated

Last Tango and Easy Rider are iconic, because they say more about their times than they do about the eternal verities. Consequently, they don’t hold up so well.

But they still teach me something about my wife, about who she was once, what mattered to her, and about who she has become. I’m glad she’s not burdened by nostalgia, that she can watch Last Tango and say, “meh.”

(Me, I was taken by how much Marlon Brando’s performance reminded me of Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Turns out, I’m not the only one). 

We’ve watched a few movies that had a big impact on me, or seemed to have a big impact on my generation. The Breakfast Club was one. Meh.

But there’s still more to test. Blade Runner. Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Rocky Horror Picture Show. Blue Velvet.

How do you suppose Sheri will judge those? Which ones are classic, and which ones merely iconic?

Friday, January 27, 2012

What if?

Laura Linney gets real with younger man Topher Grace in P.S.
What would you do for a second chance?

That’s the tagline for the 2004 movie P.S., which we watched a few nights ago, having put it on our Netflix queue as another older woman/younger man love story. Louise, a 30-something divorcée played by Laura Linney, is still mourning the death of her high school boyfriend many years earlier. Now she meets a younger man who has his name, his looks and his affinity for art. Has her dead boyfriend returned? Naturally, complications ensue.

The movie didn’t dwell on the age gap (about 15 years), which was refreshing. The story had more to do with the ex-husband, the best friend, and sibling tensions. Still, it got me thinking about the idea of do-overs.

I’ve written about just this thing before: the summer boyfriend spurned,  killed in a car accident and then mythologized. In my case he returned in a dream to deliver a message about Michael, just when I needed to hear it.

Do-overs aren’t always so transcendent. I’ve moved back to places I’d lived before: Connecticut, Montana, Baltimore. I quit smoking at least 10 times before that final cigarette 22 years ago. Lost weight, gained weight, lost it, gained, lost again.  For writers, revising is a kind of do-over. Planting new seeds every spring? A do-over.

But the fantasy of getting a for-real redo – erasing large blunders and small goofs, getting things right after all these years – seems hardwired into human nature. What if? It’s an engaging vehicle for movies and books – in one 2009 book , a 48-year-old guy goes back to kindergarten and his prom night. But what if, instead of looking back and trying to redo your life, you could realize that what you might want to do over is in front of you right now? In the movie, Louise reconciles with her brother and lets go of the ex-husband as she recovers the balance she had lost while living in the past.

My friend Courtney put up a recent blog post that put this in perspective for me. A wise woman who just turned 32, she wrote about how her life has moved from the leading edge of journalism to another frontier that she loves even more: the husband, toddler, the hard work and joy of farming in central Montana. She’s surprised at how her life has turned out – it’s the last future she imagined for herself, but now that she’s in it, she has no regrets, doesn’t want a do-over.

Life is hardly ever what you imagine it will be. Michael and I have each abandoned places we love in order to be together. We’ve struggled to pay the mortgage some months, watched our dogs die, had arguments over silly things. But I've never wanted a do-over. And sometimes he’ll whisper into my neck,  “Will you marry me?” Meaning: I’d do all of it, all over again.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'm a grouchy bear.

Isn't the Cougar phenomenon so 2009? Isn't it history yet?

Apparently not at the ad agency that put together the newest ad for Dr Pepper. Accompanied by a pop-jingle refrain "I gotta be me," people in the ad rip off their everyday clothes to reveal a red T-shirt with a self-describing logo in white. The first? "One of a Kind." The second? "I'm a dreamer." The third?

Bleech. And of course, the young hero of the ad gives our lady a second look. But! at the ad's end, he chooses the perky same-age brunette with the "I'm a Dr Pepper" Tee.

This cougar stuff? Aren't we all ready for it to end now?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pillow talk

The newest issue of Baltimore Style magazine includes conversations with married couples of several stripes, a la the couch-couples from When Harry Met Sally, except they're not all old. Style's got your multiple-marrieds, your newlyweds, your younger man and older woman…

 Yup. We’re included, too.

If you want to read the piece, you’ll have to buy a copy of the magazine ($3.95 at the newsstand); Style doesn’t put all of its articles on its web site. Having already read the piece we wrote, we were more interested when Style arrived to read what other couples had to say, and thus we offer you these gems:

from Tom and Micheline McManus, who have had three wedding ceremonies and plan another for 2018:
• “Getting married again (and again) is our way of saying, ‘I love the person you are now and continue to become.’ And maybe that person will learn how to iron.”
• “We thought we didn’t want a big wedding, that we didn’t need it. But we were wrong; through the warmth and laughter of the people gathered that day, our idea of marriage changed. There were more than two people in a marriage, and that was good.”
• “Each wedding has come with an expansion of the guest list, and a reminder that as we grow and change we need to make our promises out loud all over again.”

from Erik and Polina Hansen, married three months
Polina: “It’s always a holiday when he comes home.”
Erik: “I don’t have to impress her, but I still try.”

from Heather Moyer and Amy Sens, married in 2002, at a church in Cambridge, Mass.
Heather: “That was before it was legal, but Massachusetts saw how amazing our wedding was and said, ‘We should legalize it!’ ”

Ron Smith and Julia Felscher, married 15 years
Ron: “I’m a real dreamer. I always want to do things without thinking them through. Julia is more of a realist.”
Julia: “I crush his dreams…”
Ron: “No, don’t say that!”
Julia: “I like the fact that he’s a dreamer. It brings out possibilities that I may not think about.”

Parker Mount and Laura Calhoun, married eight years (his fourth marriage, her second)
Laura: “For a while his family just called me ‘No. 4.’ They didn’t even bother to know my name.”
Parker: “They didn’t even bother with the word ‘number.’ They said, ‘Four.’ ”
Laura: “I took it in stride. But they came around. You have to have a sense of humor about it.”

Frank and Eva Manfire, married 61 years
Frank: “My grandmother used to have this woman come into the house to help out and she was like a fortuneteller. One day she told my fortune. She said in a few years you’re going to get married and you’re going to have a nice wife, but, I hate to tell you, she’s going to die right away. You’re going to be living with her a few years and she’s going to pass away. Well, I guess that was wrong!”

There you go. Now, what pillow talk do you have to offer?

Monday, January 2, 2012

In Our Cups

For the New Year (in which we wish you happiness) we have new cups. Readers may remember Michael’s paean to a favorite coffee mug, broken by his wife a year or so ago.

In it he revealed that our preference in cups mirrors our preference in mates:

“I like a cup that’s been around, that has character,” he wrote.“I like a cup that tells stories.”

“I like a fresh cup,” I told him after replacing his well-worn Polish National Home mug with a happy polka-dot version. “A clean one. One that’s new.”

For Christmas, Michael’s sister Susan gifted us each with a new cup suited to our tastes. A bright yellow wake-up-cheerful version for me. Perched atop the handle is a perky piece of poultry, maybe a rooster, although it’s hard to say. Sleek and tapered, the cup says “modern.”

For Michael, solid stoneware with an aqua glaze and lovely curved handle. A mellow mug with many stories, coming as it does from his parents’ cupboard, his father’s hand. What Susan didn’t realize was that the mug has even more history than that for Michael. He remembers the neighborhood women from his childhood coming home from Vermont vacations with hand-thrown mugs by Paul Gordon, of which this is one. This mug says “tradition.” It says “1970s.”

Tell me again, just who is the older person in this marriage?