e.e. cummings once said that "Love is the mystery of mysteries". And so it remains, though something tangible can be said of it: that it differs between people and that one's love varies in both kind and intensity-as between husband and wife, lover and loved, parent and child, between two friends, or even between two enemies. There is no finite store of love in each of us. It is bottomless and never runs out, though often the show of it can be so artfully disguised as to not be recognized or recognizable.
Love is in the little contacts with each other, the repository of familiar warmth and trust and attraction. It is in the knowing of how a certain woman softly pulls up her sheer black stockings or how much brown sugar your youngest daughter, rumpled in her pajamas at the kitchen table, used to so carefully spread over her hot oatmeal on wintery mornings. Love seems rarely to last on a grand scale, a drama which is difficult to constantly sustain before it dissipates and drifts into memory. Though too, I believe that a man and a woman are their memories, and their imagination, as well.
This essay is an attempt (and a feeble one, at best!) at the differing shades of love-it's subtleties, heartbreaks, and limitations, but also an effort to reach for its potential. The pursuit of love is what is left most for us to accomplish in life; its reward the glory of glories, but if we fall short, we must remember that, in truth, it is the journey that counts the most.
This essay will also be the work of quite a few days, so if you find any of this interesting, I encourage you to return often, as I will be adding entries to this as I can. I hope that you, the reader, might find some small enjoyment in what I post, and I invite your comments. After all, this blog is about how a simple man (me) views and interacts with the world around him. Part of that interaction consists of different opinions or points of view. But sometimes, it is just me telling stories and hoping that they are received well.
So....Love stories. We all have heard of them, but what are they really? Are they dreams come true, like in the movie "Pretty Woman" ? Have you ever been in a love story?
Love stories. Stories of Love. I have talked in other entries in my blog about the love story between The Dog and her Boy. About the wife and the kids. About my family and my friends here. They are all love stories, in one form or another. Some of what you are about to read is obviously about me. Some of it is about people I know or knew. Some of them are just love stories. I'll let you, the reader, try to figure out which is which! The first one is easy, though.
"Enchanting one: how shall the concord of these two simple words attain a rhyme which ripples through me like a spell?"
There are some who marry for money, some for fame, others for desire, and still others out of loneliness. I have married mainly for really liking the woman who is my wife. Not always, of course, but nearly always.
I like her innocence, even though at times it is lost in anger. I like her memory, which often turns against me if I am sloppy in recall. And I like the way she has time for others, how it is not measured or withheld. I like her naturalness and lack of pretense, and the way she can so easily be offended yet still find it hard to carry a grudge. I like the way she worries about me and my health, and I think that, someday, I may truly need her help. I like her curiosity and her love of small indulgences that allow for a good glass of wine and even, at times, a good cigar. I like her deep auburn hair and her bright, unchanging smile, how we cuddle warmly in our big soft bed, and how the early morning light runs silently across her milky-white face. And, too, I like the excitement in her voice when, right in the middle of the bus station, she called loudly to our two daughters, announcing that, finally, Dad was home again.
I love her, but I like her, as well. We are not perfect together, nor were we meant to be. We are slightly apart in age, and there is a respect for our differences. With her, I feel a hope for the future. I trust in her basic goodness, a goodness I have learned from as she, in her own unique way, I hope, has learned from me.
We will keep on loving each other yet, if we do not, we have only our ungrateful selves to blame. But we will keep on loving each other.
I am sure of that.
"Come away, oh human child
To the waters and the wild
With a fairy, hand in hand
For the worlds more full of weeping
Than you can ever understand"
I first saw her through a small, distant window as she lay quietly asleep. Only her petite, finely shaped head with its surprisingly rose cheeks stuck out from in between two firmly tucked and wrapped covers. She faced the ceiling and, despite the bright lights above, her eyelids remained peacefully closed.
She had finished with what what her purposeful, deep breathing had said was a long and stress-filled journey. She was tired, but obviously content, replenishing the resources she spent in the struggle she had just left behind. An aura of calm triumph had settles over her small, unmoving face. One journey had been completed. She would soon be ready for the next.
As I watched my newborn daughter so intently from behind that glass window in the hospital nursery in the early morning hours, I resisted the impulse to look beyond that moment. Just to be here, right now, with her, was enough.
The beauty of watching her tiny body motionless in time, unburdened of all responsibility and bereft of all expectation. Unfettered from all of the emotions of wrath, of jealousy, of dislike. Not yet to experience the joys of love, of friendship. Of life.
No, the pleasure of that still moment was all I wished to savor, and all I wished to somehow convey to her: that both I and her mother, who was lying next door in an exhausted sleep, pledge to be by her side always.
As I look at her, knowing nothing more about her that the fact that she is so beautiful, lying there so quietly, so confidently, so serenely poised to begin her new life, I begin to realize what an enormous responsibility I have just taken on. I realize that, for once, someone is really going to care about what I do or how I act. I realize that, all of a sudden, I actually care about what someone else thinks about me.
I realize that another love story has just begun.
I first felt this at the birth of my daughter 30 years ago. In the ensuing 30 years, I have been honored and blessed to have the chance to feel this way two more times (both daughters). It actually gets better, if such a thing is possible, each time, which I can't understand.
How can you top something that is perfect?
WALTZING AT THE RITZ
"They say for every boy and girl
there is just one love in this whole world
And I've found mine!"
I would in general like to be able to dance better. The waltz, that is. It is probably true of most men, especially of my age. There is a certain romance to it that is hard to get otherwise. Actually, there was a time that I could waltz, and pretty damned good, too!
Ms. McNamara's School of Ballroom Dancing is where we went on Friday nights when I was about 10. For one dollar, we boys got to dress up with a wide, garish tie (usually one of our fathers) and learn all of the dances in Ms. McNamara's basement. we also got an absolutely incredible chance to actually meet the girls we went to school with, actually touch them! Hold their exquisite hands, see the exposed shoulders and sometimes even the backs, dressed freshly in perfumed pastels of light blue or pink.
I often danced with Patrica Kelly, who later became one of the great loves of my pre-teen years. She lied and told me that I was a good dancer, even as I stepped clumsily and repeatedly on the soft, demure toes of her pink pumps. Still, the nights that I spent there gave me confidence, an introduction to style, and on of my first looks at romance.
I have, in the intervening years, lost the rhythm, but there are still quiet moments when I can again feel my hand around Patrica's waist, my perspiring palm holding hers, as we spin and turn slowly, elegantly, around and around the linoleum floor of Ms. McNamara's basement ballroom.
Lost in the strains of her Gramophone, lost in the soft easy steps of a Viennese waltz.
"Love at the lips was touch
as sweet as I could bear;
And once, that seemed too much
While I....I lived on air"
A first kiss can be prolonged, consciously drawn out, or short and tender. It can be tentative and miss the mark, or confident under a blazing sun. It can be on a beach or in a driving rain or leaning impulsively across a checkered tablecloth in a quiet restaurant just after desert and coffee, or even struck in the shadows of a movie theater near the end of a film like Breakfast at Tiffany's.
It can be sudden and intense, driven by desire and too much red wine or it can be exchanged on soft green grass before the picnic basket is even opened. A first kiss can be won at spin the bottle, the guilty pleasures at our first touch of young, eager lips. Was it so exhilarating? Or was it perhaps so thoughtful and profound, such as when you and she stopped to talk beside an old stone wall, the brightness of the late fall afternoon blanching out even more across the silver hair that appears more and more lately, on both of your heads.
A first kiss is both a beginning and an end. You can not take it back, just as you can never give it away again. It may be trivialized and easily forgotten, or perhaps it will be that one fleeting, anxious, sublime moment that gets held in your memory for a lifetime, coloring the perception of all of the other kisses you may ever give or so expectantly receive from the ever elusive lips of your love.
It just might be, if you are very, very lucky, the kiss by which all other will forever by judged by!
THE WILD BLUE YONDER
" Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings"
Flying with my uncle was one of the best memories I have of my mothers side of the family. He loved sea-planes and it was often late in the day when we would taxi out onto the water, the early winter sun beaming optimistically through the high cloud formations. Tucked in securely behind them, I would watch in wonderment the foamy seawater scattering from the planes pontoons as we would lift off and head out along the coast. Once we were air-born, my uncle would excitedly point out landmarks, and then bank and swoop and dive and climb and land with much ceremony on the open sea, with a shout of "hold your breath!" as the plane would skim the surface of the water repeatedly, while struggling to break free and rise up into the unpopulated sky.
Life, however, was less certain when my uncle came down to earth. he owned his own business and I worked for him for a time, so I got to see him when he was at his "less the best". A reckless man, he bent to his own impulses, often chasing good times, drink and flight, both here and on foreign shores. But when I was with him, he gave me so very much-the fruits of his prolific reading, the sharp, incisive opinions of a strangely honorable man. And, of course, an experts view of aviation! He would speak of Lindbergh, Earhart, Corrigan, while sharing the dynamics of a perfect wing as he held his balsa-wood model up to the light. And how could anyone ever forget his foolish predictions of when planes would fly without propellers or could even exceed the speed of sound!
Flight was a release, and on those early autumn afternoons in the open sky with the noise of the planes engines blasting in the ears, I felt close to my uncle in a way that I have never been able to duplicate anywhere else, while I soared high above life's problems. It made me fearless and liberated and eager to start in what, to me, seemed like a spectacular adventure that was called Life.
Shortly after that summer, I went back home, and I never saw my uncle again. but I will always carry in my heart what he gave me-not only a deep and abiding love for a man who saw a spark of adventure in a young boy and did his best to fan it into a roaring flame by giving his time and effort, but also the memories of a glorious summer of adventure in the air and on the sea.
MAKING LOVE IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
"This is what youth must figure out:
Girls, love, and living.
The having, the not having,
The spending and the giving.
And the melancholy time of not knowing."
I first experienced this in a phone-booth. As a teenager, even on bone-chilling winter nights, you had to make your "important" calls outside of the house. For me, this was down at the local Texaco station, and I would go down there to call this new girlfriend of mine.
Pamela was 14 at the time-beautiful, exquisite, blond, with perfect hair and full young lips. She was going to be a model and she wore leopard-skin hats. We usually only saw girls like this in magazines or late-night fantasies.
My friend Sam, for reasons that are still unclear to this day, rejected her overtures, so Pamela turned her interests to me. After a couple of dates, a movie, and a ride to get ice cream in my fathers Chevy, I found myself one night down at the Texaco chatting with the love of my life. Her voice grew very quiet, even a bit intimate.
"You know" she said.
"Yes?", I replied.
Then, in the most fetching voice a young man has ever heard, she murmured into the phone "Je t'aime mi amore".
I was stumped. Stone quiet reigned over the airwaves.
"You know what I just said?"
"Well, of course I do," I answered awkwardly. The conversation, and the relationship, ended at roughly the same time.
I have, in the intervening years, learned a bit of French-even once, several years ago, receiving a compliment from a French chef in a local restaurant. But I am reluctant to use it when it comes to the endearments of love.
About the missed chance with Pamela? Well, lets just say that I would like to have it over again! This time, I would tell her that I would be right over so that she could, slowly and in person, repeat what she had just said, so that I could understand it all much better as it rolled from her lips!
POTS AND KETTLES
"Through you, I knew Woman, and did not fear her spell"
One early evening, right before dark, my mother said that we could go out in the street and make noise. She handed me a dented pot and a metal ladle and said that I should bang it as loudly as I could. For us, it was the day that the war ended, because my brother was coming home from overseas and his time in the military was over.
The pot, ripped and loose at the handle, was one my mother cooked hot pudding in for our desserts. It was usually chocolate and occasionally butterscotch, a thick, creamy, delicious liquid that we poured slowly into clear glass cups, being ever so careful to distribute this delectable treat evenly.when the pouring was done, a thin layer of cooling warm pudding lay at the bottom, and when it was your turn, our mother would provide a soup spoon, and you got your chance, before dinner, to lick the pot.
Though our home was postage-stamp size, my mental image of my mother to this day is that if her in front of the stove presiding over our meals, our snacks, our friends, and the steady flow of people that seemed to flow in and out of our house like the tides of the oceans. Neighbors, who would come over unannounced in search of an egg, a cup of milk, some bread or medicine or advice or stories or jokes or at times just comfort from the hardships of life. Our kitchen table was where our day began, our source of warm soup at lunch, our shared supper at night. It was also a cafe where much beer and wine was drunk while cigarettes would be smoked and the discussions would flow. It was during these discussions that we children would sit quietly, listening to animated stories and exotic tales of bravery, daring, travel, intimacy, and at times, treachery and cowardice.
I have not been disappointed as an adult with the preparation for life that I received in my mothers kitchen, the nerve center of our home back them.. Her message lives on: to grab the pot and bang it as loudly as you can, and don't ever be afraid to join in with this celebration of life, cherish your family table and give of it more than you expect to receive, and always be sure when you are pouring the pudding that every cup if filled equally. If, at the end, there is some left over and it is your turn, enjoy the warm guilty pleasure of licking the pot!
"And you ate an apple, while I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought from somewhere,
And the sky went wan, while the wind blew cold,
And the Sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold."
On my block, back when we were growing up, we generally avoided our sisters. Even if you had ever entertained the slightest crumb of interest in including your sisters in anything, even in toasting marshmallows at a picnic, you would never risk the mockery of that scruffy band of delinquents you spent every waking hour of the day with.
So I didn't really know my sister. When our brother died the day before he was supposed to come home from the military, she and I were in our early forties. She said to me when we first embraced, "You and I are the only ones left." But At the time, I wasn't thinking about us, I was thinking about him. He was the one that was not here with us anymore. the rest of us, as far as I was concerned, were still here.
When my sister graduated from college and began her professional career, my feelings towards her began to change, not only because I had begun to change, but because she had as well. She had developed opinions, demanded respect, challenged me, and yet, I must admit, I still often acted like I was still in the neighborhood shooting marbles in the dirt, expecting her to be at my shoulder, watching but saying nothing. I never realized how much I had come to depend on that quiet, steady presence always at my shoulder, watching but saying nothing.
Today we still don't always believe in exactly the same things, but we are able to listen and talk to each other, often with great interest and usually without interrupting. When I get ready to take a long trip, usually an adventure, she will call or, often at the last minute, come to the airport with my wife to see me off. When I come home and she has just told me how glad she is to see me and how much she cares for me, my voice sometimes cracks and I may even sound a bit emotional. Even concealed a bit on the other side of the phone, with watery eyes and a stuffy nose, I am still strangely happy to feel that way, grateful, now, that I have her in my life.
"When men decide, and feel safe
To call the War insane
Take one moment to embrace
Those gentle heroes you left behind"
My oldest brother died well after the Vietnam war was over. When I asked if his name could be inscribed on the monument in Washington D.C., they told me that it was not possible. To get there, someone else had to kill you.
How he got himself involved in the thick of the war was no mystery to our family. We have a tradition of service to this country that dates back to the Revolutionary War. I was in grade school and making plans to sneak off to "fight some gooks" with my older brother. He was sending home dirt-stained letters, fighting hand-to-hand, and killing young people his own age. He witnessed comrades hanging upside down from trees, disemboweled by the enemy, while listening to primal screams from captured Marines, unable to be saved, as they were tortured and slowly put to death. When he was shot after two years of much-decorated combat such as the above, then saved with a colostomy bag in place, he considered it a deliverance.
My brothers years after the war were turbulent. He found little success in life and there were long periods in VA hospitals, sometimes in "stress units". When he ended his life, I though that it was the most desperately painful moment I could ever expect to experience in a lifetime. I was wrong, of course, as I found out all too well when I started MY military career, but that is another story. Now, ten or so years later, I still think about him often-his pride, his courage, his innocence, his basic honesty-and I wish that if only somehow he could be given another chance to come back and try life again. This time, I would understand, and I would be there for him before it was too late.
THE POLLYWOG POND
'But we in it shall be remembered
we few, we happy few, we band of brothers."
Is it possible to love a place as much as it is to love a person? Paris, Connemara, Key West, or a bubbling brook in Southern Illinois can make you cherish them with the same kind of unambivalent passion. And each place holds its memories: the warmth of familiarity, the boisterous laughter you once roared with in its streets, the sweet, wet smell of grass after a midsummer afternoon rainstorm. year after year, the slow but certain changes of the seasons, the consistency of every new cycle of flower and tree, the tap-dancing on your roof of fat, frantic squirrels as they make ready for winter.
I loved a particular place in that way. Behind my house ran a ragged but well-worn path leading through some woods, and it eventually came out at a muddy spring-fed pool no more than 12 yards across. I went there in all seasons and at all times of the day : in spring, when deep verdant weeds lined its shore, in summer, when thick brown frogs have grown noisily from secretive tadpoles and when the stifling heat would drive us, torn underwear and all, into its cool water and down to the slimy bottom covered with years of cushioning leaves. My friends and I came to this spot on damp still nights to gather together and share quietly in the dark the embarrassed secrets of our households.. In the chill I came, usually alone,early in the morning when nobody else was about, to be silent and to just....feel.
We built up a stone border to make the pond deeper, and we dug cool huts with sagging roofs in the crumbling banks. We broke rich milkweed pods and rubbed the creamy milk into our skins, swearing to return in 10 or 20 or 30 years to this place to be together again. Eventually, life intruded, we grew up, and the old pond was forgotten.
Or was it? I actually did go back once, almost 15 years ago. By then, I had been gone for almost 22 years. The old house was gone, and there was nothing but a wild, grown up lot where it once stood. Almost a continuation of the woods behind the old place now. With great difficulty, I managed to find the beginnings of that old path. As I followed it, the memories came back so fast that it was almost like I had never left! I broke out of the underbrush and there it was, just as I remembered it. Also, scared shit-less, were three young kids having a good time in the middle of the pool. After assuring them that I meant no harm one of them asked me what I was doing over there in the "old place" . When I told him that I used to live in that "old place", his eyes got big and he ran off saying that he would be back in a few minutes.
Needless to say, my curiousity was up, and I didn't know if I should stay or go, but curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to wait just a bit longer. The other two boys who had stayed behind had no idea of what was going on either. Finally, after what seemed like an hour, but was only probably like 15 minutes, I hear this crashing in the underbrush. the little boy comes back into sight holding the hand of his grandfather....my old childhood friend.
Two old friends, surrounded by the generations of their families, and drawn back together by the stories told of their love of a boyhood place.
LE CAFE HOT
"When asked "Why do you write about food", I reply "Like most humans, I am hungry!"
I have a dream. This is my own idea, and it has been developing, albeit slowly. It's a dream about owning a restaurant, actually a diner. A drive-in diner, well-known but not too well-known, if you know what I mean. People will come from all over, usually either in late-model exotic cars (convertibles, of course!) or cars that are several decades old, to eat at my Cafe Hot. There will be more to it than just food, of course. I want everyone to have a good time, too, with me, with the music, even a bit with the family-the missus, who can sing pretty good, and the little ones, who I will make sure are not there all of the time.
Regarding the menu: Pepper is the un-kept secret in my food-red, black, or white. I will also mince yellow, orange and green bell peppers, and add garlic, curry, rosemary, or anise seed. The have the character, the bite! I also like peanut butter, and I put it on fried potatoes, along with the Tabasco which goes on the rice and the fennel which I sprinkle on the steaks. Here in Le Cafe Hot, I'm afraid that the salads are secondary, but the bread is prime and fresh-baked, the cheese is pungent, and the desserts tres riche. My favorites are gently sauteed fruits with just enough Drambuie and fresh cream.
The music will be upbeat, with plenty of fiddles and maybe a banjo or two, but there will be quite time, and a steel guitar, as well. In addition, if you like, there will be the chance for you to get up and share an old poem or a song, or perhaps just to tell us something about yourself. My good friends here will be there (no charge for the D-F family!) on a steady basis and the reception will always be warm. For everyone else, well, I am sure we will all get to know each other soon enough.
Some time ago, I was traveling on old Route 66, and I passed the almost perfect place. The diner was abandoned, but I could still see, through the encrusted grime of the years, that the booths were still there and that the counter was just about the right size. The parking lot was my only worry, it seemed a bit too small for the number of cars in my head and the number of friends who will stick around, once they hear of Le Cafe Hot.
I don't know if this is a love story as such, but if you hold on to a dream long enough, it might be because you are in love with it. It sounds good enough for me, anyway.
"Let us go then, you and I
When the evening is set out against the sky
Like a patient, etherized"
I drank my first bottle of red Bordeaux in a French bistro with bright red lether banquettes on Forty-Third street in New York City. It was St. Emilion, and I was young and I was in love. We were on our way to see Richard Burton play Hamlet on Broadway. Everything was perfect. the food, the excitement, the expectations, but especially the wine. the wine was the perfect touch.
For love, of course, not just any wine will do. No, you want the wine with personality, with character, with a future. Any decent red wine, carefully chosen, can fit the bill. To begin, pick a wine that captures the moment, the food, and the season. Heavier wines do better in winter. In the rain, it has to be a Bordeaux or a Cabernet. the lighter, finer wines, such as the Burgundies and the pinot noires are for anytime, but nicer in the spring and the fall. For the summer, what is better than a properly chilled Beaujolais?
In the company of the one who you love, sequestered in a quiet corner table, chose your wine with care. Cost should not be an issue, while timing certainly is. You want a wine that is ready, that gives a fine color when held up to the light, and that makes a good first impression.
Let the wine follow you, don't push it to the front of the meal. Let it linger in your fingertips as you gaze into the eyes of your lover from across the table. Let it meander lazily into dessert. You can stop here, or finish up with a tasting of sherry or port, although in every other sense of the word, you have only just begun. The full beauty of the evening awaits!
" Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere I shall wake
And give what's left of love again, and make new friends, now strangers...."
When they stepped into the taxi and began heading uptown, both of them started to have doubts at about the exact same time. Walter had never met Judy before. Judy had only a muffled conversation to go on, but Walters voice just didn't seem right. When they agreed for their first date to meet under the clock at Grand Central Station, he said that he had black hair and would be wearing a bright red tie. but he clearly had light brown hair and no tie at all!
"I'm glad I got here early," Judy said as they settled in,
"Me too," Walter said.
"We'll be ahead of the rush at the restaurant."
"Restaurant?" Judy said, turning quickly to him. "I thought we were going to a movie."
Walter hesitated nervously.
"I'm sorry, did I say a movie? I meant we were going to a restaurant. You'll like it-Northern Italian."
Judy raised her eyebrows and looked out of the taxi window. Neither of them spoke as the cabdriver whistled along north up Park Avenue. Walter could tell in 10 seconds on a blind date when it wasn't going to work. No real attraction. he wished he could open the door and jump out, right then and there. Judy was also becoming quite concerned. What kind of person would go so far as to disguise himself or be so devious about his appearance? She glanced over at Walter, checking for a toupee, but it seemed that the light brown hair was real.
"You don't seem like the person that I spoke to on the telephone," Judy said.
"You know, that is exactly what I was thinking about you, " Walter answered. "I mean, you told me that you were tall and thin."
"I don't remember mentioning anything about my size. All I mentioned was that I had blonde hair."
"I thought you said it was black," said Walter.
"There is some mistake here," Judy said, and suddenly asked the taxi driver to pull over. "I'm getting out. maybe another time, Walter?"
'Sure, if you say so," he answered, both relieved and just a little perplexed.
Judy got out and hailed a cab to take her back to the station to get a train back to Mount Vernon. Walter stayed on and directed the driver to return him back to his apartment on East Twenty-Third Street. As his taxi was going south on Park Avenue, another cab was heading north, and they passed each other unnoticed somewhere around Fifty-Seventh Street.
Judith, a tall, thin black-haired woman was getting to know Wally, a slightly plump dark-haired man with a loud red tie with whom she was going out with for the very first time. They had met, just as planned, under the clock at Grand Central Station and seemed to already be enjoying themselves, each apologizing profusely for, as usual, not being on time. Judith thought Wally was cute, and he was telling himself that he always knew in less than a minute whether he was going to like a woman.
Boy, was he excited!
***NOTE*** The one thing that remains true throughout love stories, no matter who the author may be, is that as one door closes, another door always opens!
" I can't be talkin' of love, dear,
I can't be talkin' of love
If there be one thing I can't talk of
that one thing do be love."
Although the names in this story are identical with the names of my wife and I, I categorically deny that this story represents events that may have actually ever occurred. You believe that, right? Good! Then lets move on.
Kerry had been looking forward to this night. It's not often you get the chance to go out dancing at one of the most romantic places in the city, especially as a reward for a successful rehab of a major knee surgery. He tried to imagine the music that they would be playing. Cathy was excited too, but she wasn't showing it. The problem with going out dancing at the most romantic place in the city, and doing it all on short notice, is that she had to sit through a litany of retirement speeches for her sister-in-law, which would take the luster from even the most sparkling of nights. Besides, she didn't like her sister-in-laws husband, and she had no intention of sitting near them. Also, she didn't have a dress that was up to her standards for the evening.
"We're running late, Cathy."
"Don't rush me, Kerry. I'm going as fast as I can"
Cathy was looking for her stockings. She had forgotten to buy new ones and was looking through her drawer for something to match her standard black dress. Kerry was ready always on time. He said that it was a holdover from his military life, or some such crap as that. He took good care of himself, as he would say, "first and foremost", laying out his socks and underwear carefully, then polishing his shoes before showering to keep his hands clean. Once he got dressed, he paced the house, waiting for Cathy and often following her from room to room.
"You can be nerve-racking, Kerry. Why don't you go and walk The Dog?"
"She went out already."
"I know, I let her out myself while YOU were getting dressed! Take her again, while I finish getting ready."
"I am ready. That's the difference, Cathy."
"Men get away with murder. They wear the same thing every time."
"Sounds like someone I know."
"That's bull-shit! What is that supposed to mean, ass-hole?"
"You should have dressed up a little more, at least this time." Kerry said.
"Give me the money and I will!"
"You didn't ask."
"it's because I already know the answer," she said.
"Fine. Don't ask."
"Fine. Don't expect, anymore."
Cathy was pulling her dress over her head. Kerry stood watching in the doorway from behind her.
"Kerry," She shouted.
"I'm right here," he answered, making her jump.
"Oh. Can you zip me up, please?"
He walked over and slowly zipped up her dress, pausing when he finished, to kiss her gently on the back of her neck. She began to pull away, annoyed, then hesitated.
"Do that again," she asked.
He gently leaned over and kissed her slowly once again.
"That's much better," she said.
"Ready?" he asked.
"I am now," Cathy answered with a small smile.
WEST WITH THE DAWN
"All legendary obstacles lay between
as, the long imaginary plain,
The monstrous rack of mountains"
Clare was a woman who preferred the company of men. More at home up to her knees in a trout stream than kneeling in a circle at a baby shower, she was a certain kind of woman. A man's woman, so to speak. Relishing the outdoors, hiking anywhere without complaint, and drinking with the best, she was not only very good company but a very good listener as well. For me, it would have been the ideal friendship, except for the fact that I wanted more. Much more.
You see, Claire was a beautiful woman. How could anyone ignore that fact? I know it certainly colored all of MY thinking! When she rode, you would have seen what I mean: that free-flowing, chestnut hair, big deep brown eyes and thin hips, casually holding in that foolish horse. Confidence and ease, a monied ease, only more natural, without all of the calculated training that was so common to other women that I had known.
There was another side to Claire, unfortunately. As accomplished as she was with a shot-gun or at the controls of a Piper Cub, or even in the silk and satin pleasures of the night, Claire was coldly indifferent to children-not only her own child, but to all other children, as well.
With time, I sensed a growing lack of tolerance for the juvenile in me also-my occasional silliness, my irreverence. As soft as those caresses felt on the back of my neck, or as savory as her jocular dry champagne-the touch, the taste, the pleasure of it all began to grow stale, and I knew.....it was time to move on.
DANCING WITH MEN
"This is what age must learn about...
The going, yet not going
The loving, and the leaving
And the unbearable knowing and not knowing"
A woman who was 80 years old told me that it was OK if I rolled down her stockings. I had to strap on a wire on her legs to do an electrocardiogram. She needed help.
"It's been a long time since anyone did
that to me," she said.
"Oh?," I answered.
"It feels pretty good," she offered.
"Well, I'm moving things along," I said, somewhat embarrassed.
"You know, I miss my husband so very much. I think of him every day."
"Are you lonely?"
"I am. For these past ten years, more than you could know."
"Why don't you join a club, or plan outings?"
"I don't like trips. I like to dance."
"Then go to dances!"
"I do. I go all the time."
"That's good," I answered.
"I know. but when I dance, I have a rule."
"I dance, but only with men."
Her left eye winked the most perfect wink. I was envious. I have always wanted to control that one part of my face with such a knowing gesture. For me, it only ends up in distorted lines and furrows, especially right in the middle of my forehead. I looked back at her, but by now the wink was gone and she was hurrying up to pull on her stockings. She said she was late, and had someplace to be.
WITH A BROOM IN MY HAND
"He questioned softly why I failed?
For beauty, I replied.
And I for truth, the two are one;
We brethren are, he said"
On August 20, 1829, A Mr. E. Linch-a Shaker-left his community to look for strawberries and did not return. Tired of his celibate life, he was off to merrily join in the world of the flesh. Elder Fredric Evans, a contemporary, might have regretted the other man's defection, but he did not mourn. "The joys of a celibate life are far greater than I can make you know. They are indescribable." It is very unlikely that Brother Linch held the same ardor, but thousands of other Shakers did.
For over 100 years, Shaker-ism thrived in communities from New England to Kentucky, espousing the strict separation of the sexes, brotherly love, and emotional carthasis through ecstatic group dancing. The Shakers found closeness to their deity here on earth in the form of creation: the most perfect architecture of their buildings and the exquisite design of their home furnishings. Despite their numerous accomplishments, however, by the mid-twentieth century, they had successfully un-reproduced themselves out of existence and into oblivion.
What lasts now of the Shakers is more than just their furniture. They have managed to pass on an interpretation of love that is clearly out of sync with today's language. The "Big I", Sister Elizabeth Lovegrove wrote in 1830, must be tempered in favor of "the common sound". Love was a measure of perfection. Love, too, was a freedom from unwanted yokes. Love was the company of others. It could be found in Symmetry-symmetry of mind, body, spirit, and surroundings. Though the Shakers are now essentially extinct, A curious wind blows through their empty settlements and down their finely polished hallways, perplexing yet the anxious sleep of modern times.
ON ONE HAND CELESTE, ON THE OTHER, MARIE
"My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"
The Hotel Rafael on the Rue Central was not a particularly interesting place to be a chambermaid. It was dark and musty and its clientele of married men in cheap brown business suits left little romantic possibility for young women. When Marie asked Celeste, then, if she would come along with her on that Saturday night to the Cafe Miniscule, she agreed. Marie was going there to meet a man, someone who had been recommended by her cousin.
Pascal was a musician, a drummer who played alone, occasionally accompanied by his harmonica. As they entered the narrow, crowded cafe, he waas off in a small corner vigorously pounding his drums, while sweating profusely and throwing his long graying hair about his head as if in a reverie. Marie and Celeste sat at a small table and ordered glasss of red wine. As they waited for them to arrive, but noticed in the same discrete glance that pascal, the musician, only had one arm.
"How does he manage to play?" Marie asked.
"With his feet, maybe?" said Celeste.
The one-armed drummer played on, attempting to be heard over the din of the motley cast of customers huddled in small, rowdy groups about the room. At his break, Pascal cametowards their table assuming that it was them that he was to meet, but Marie suddenly turned cold, forcing Pascal to pass by awkwardly and sit by himself near the door. He smoked quietly, mopping his brow while sipping what Celeste though looked like a small brandy. He occasionally paused to look in their direction. Celeste timidly stared back, noticing how each time he lifted his glass, he methodically put his cigarette down just so in the ashtray.
"I'm sorry I came," Marie said, leaning over quietly.
"I suppose so," added Celeste.
Marie had barely sipped her drink when she announced that she wanted to leave. They passed Pascal brusquely, and for most of the night, Marie did not mention him again, preferring to comment on the men they watched from a distance at the next cafe.
The following week, Celeste called Marie to say that she would not be going out as usual. So, on Saturday night, Celeste dressed carefully before walking be herself across the Place Populare to the narrow street that ended in the Cafe Miniscule. She hesitated briefly at the door and seeing that Pascal was in there playing his music, she went in.....
A ROAD LESS TRAVELED
"For the one I love most lay sleeping beside me
Under the same cover in the cool night"
Horace was one of running's originals. Long before fitness became fashionable, he traversed the pavements of The City in isolation, wearing mainly his abbreviated underwear. Somewhat cherubic, he sported a generous brown mustache and an easy manner, though he had a voracious appetite for reading books and one other unusual hobby-collecting his dreams. Horace bragged about how he had volumes of notebooks filled with every detail recorded nightly as each one unpredictably appeared and unfolded before him.
Horace lived with another man in an apartment in The City. Though once too familiar with alcohol, he had converted to vegetarianism under Freddy's careful eye. Freddy was not a runner, he was sedentary and enjoyed watching for Horace at the finish line, huddled in his well-worn folding chair. Thin and slightly haggard, with a rough gray beard, Freddy possessed a sharp wit and even sharper temper, especially if someone came down on the wrong side of his protege.
On Sunday, Horace and Freddy invited our running club over for tea. We were curious and went eagerly. The apartment was threadbare: no furniture except for two folding chairs and a small coffee table. The walls were lined with books, hundreds of them. In the bathtub were two turtles, saved, they said, from imminent soup two weeks before at the Plaza Hotel. Passing hurriedly by the bedroom, I was surprised to see one large bed. One each side of the bed was a small table with a single matching reading lamp. Two flannel nightshirts lay thrown haphazardly on the wooden floor. As I stood looking in, I slowly realized that what I was seeing was an intimate place where two men, men whom I had grown to know well in many other ways, would each night undress and sleep together.
"The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex
I think it is clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile"
I like a tattoo on a woman. That's not to say I like tattooed women with large fire-snorting dragons (I do!). No, here I am talking about the small and subtle. The carefully placed tattoo that is somewhat hidden and hard to find. What a delight it is when an unsuspecting bend of a shapely back or the long softness of an inner thigh reveals such a surprise. These subtleties are more mysterious than those placed crassly above the buttocks or the breasts or elsewhere. A tattoo is, after all, not meant to be a road map. If you need it for that,well.....
Love has its confidences and tattoos can be just that: a small secret between you that no one else is aware of. I repeat, no one! A tasteful, discrete tattoo on a woman is also enormously sensual. It wags its fetching finger at the eyes of the finder.
"So, now you know this about me," it says.
"It is, of course, only a gesture at the artful inclusion of a small, rather insignificant part of myself that I have given over to this particularly interesting fantasy."
"Go on," you say. "Please don't let me interrupt. Go on."
My own views on tattoos are, however, based on experience. I have intimately known several women with such markings and even ended up marrying one, however, it is not normally something you ask your wife or lover to explore, at least not in the beginning of a relationship. No, some women, a certain kind of woman, comes this way already. She has made the decision herself, and it is now a part of her, a piece of her identy that will follow her into her secret private life, hidden beneath an exterior patina that may seem to be in some cases bland and unimaginative, waiting quietly, patiently, and expecting all the while to be discovered by a future lover.
" I had a sense of coming home to myself, and of having found out
What a little circle mans experience is"
My wife has long red hair that seems to get into everything-the scrambled eggs, my toothbrush, and even the babies diaper. I really don't mind it, though. There was a time when I would have, but now I kind of like the idea of her being around. The strands of hair are a pleasant reminder, a way of rediscovering her in many different places.
It was not that long ago that I wanted the front seats of my car cleaned, with no trace of anyone or anything. I liked the orderly, antiseptic sense of it. But that has slowly changed. Those long curly threads of deep red hair are now welcome, and when they turn up as I drive, my thoughts always turn to her. I even sometimes weaken to envy, knowing that her hair is so rich and beautiful that she can afford to knowingly lose some. Unlike me!
Living again with someone takes time and practice, more than I ever thought that it would, but putting your dirty socks in the washing machine at the same time can have a strange way of bringing you closer together. I wish that there was a formula for a successful relationship that I could share with you but there is not. You get lucky, or you don't. But don't be afraid to try again! My best relationship advice would be to think a little bit longer before you say anything whenever a conflict is brewing, and then hold your tongue. I don't always follow my own advice, but, on a totally unrelated note, I enjoy finding the unexpected strand of my wife's hair, just preferably not in the bathroom sink or in the kitchen. Better, I like them mixed up mischievously in my clothes, long stubborn strands of red hair pulled from my socks and shirts. Often I just leave them there. They are comfortable and familiar, and have come to feel so good close against my skin.
"Running water never disappointed,
Crossing water always furthered something,
Stepping stones are stations of the soul"
"Get back in the car."
I did, but I couldn't help but look behind me once more.
"Lets go," my wife said, "You'll only make it worse."
My daughter, my youngest child, had turned and began walking up the path into the woods. She was carrying a fresh new duffel bag over her shoulder. She was only eleven. It was her first time going away from home, to a camp in Pennsylvania. We had just driven over eight hours to get here. I turned the key and silently, instinctively brought the car around, then coasted down the rutted dirt road until it turned into asphalt, hesitated, then put my foot firmly down on the gas pedal.
"I think she'll be OK," I said, staring sadly at the now quick-moving highway ahead.
When my second daughter went to riding camp in Vermont a year earlier, I thought it would make this time easier, but it was not to be. As I was about to leave, tears welled up in her eyes yet she quickly helped me out be saying she had better join the girls who were already getting their bunks sorted out. She turned one last time towards me before she entered her silent and nervous dormitory.
Both of these moments marked a change in our lives. for my daughters, it was a chance to move into spheres outside their homes, to measure themselves, to compare their lives to date with others of their age. For me, it was accepting that their maturity had now begun. They would grow more emotionally, would be challenged and, for the first time, they would be truly alone. This change came hard for me. I acutely felt the separation. It penetrated deep into my very insides as a queasy unhappiness that would take some time to fully depart. Yet it was the right thing, to guve them these chances. I wanted then, as I do now, everything that can be considered good for my daughters. Yet, loving one's children so much is knowing and accepting, even if reluctantly, when the time has come to let go.
"And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow white hand..."
I don't see people holding hands anymore. too bad. It is such a comfortable and satisfying way to learn how to touch a woman. Holding hands was a first contact, a beginning, a great entree, later, of course, into a kiss. Then, too, it was a way of aimlessly strolling together, of luxuriating in each other, of mindlessly ambling, two hearts as one.
I don't know why such an easy, unimposing, yet totally romantic gesture has gone out of vogue lately. I do occasionally see couples walking hand-in-hand, but they are much farther apart now, as if out of sync. It seems easier to me to hold hands, your shoulders sinking into each other, when you are younger. As adults, too much has been translated into it. I once tried to hold hands with a woman who was talled than me, who pulled me along; another, this time shorter, who dragged behind, wrenching at me like an anchor.. Both were very unnerving! Once though, at the intermission of a particularly good play on Broadway as I was holding hands casually with a woman whom I had known for quite some time, she reached over as we stood quietly and placed her other hand over both of ours and shuddered excitedly as though she had been completely overcome with emotion. I was delighted to the core, and I have never forgotten that moment.
Then too, it is hard to live up to the promise of such a love. Yet, necessarily nothing needs to be promised by holding another one's hand. it is an act of friendship, of presumed closeness, of affection. It is far, far from the absolute exposure of nakedness and short enough by two lips coming softly together. It provides you with time to think, yet gives enjoyment and warmth and the chance to look into each others eyes, as you meander along, to see if what you are beginning to hope is real, may at some not-too-distant point in the future come true.
Well, this is the twenty-third story of love. Along the way, I hope you have perhaps realized as I have, that there are many different kinds of love, and each one has a story all of its own. Love. Such a simple little word, yet it holds the very future in its grasp. Four little letters, that have so many different meanings. I think I'll do one more, and then wrap this particular essay up. Never fear, however! There will be more, as we are just starting the fourth month of a twelve-month project. And to think I was worried about having something to write about!
Anyway, one more love story. I think that this one will tie it all together. One more story......tomorrow!
OK, this is it. The last love story. I thought about this for awhile, because I wanted to end this on a positive note, but I realized that, sometimes, love stories end on a negative note. So, rather than that, I chose a different message. Enjoy!
WHEN SILENCE IS AN ANSWER
"Music, when soft voices die
Vibrates in the memory"
When I was young and more driven to talk about myself and how I felt about the unsteady world around me, I found the friendship I sought around the crackling flames of a campfire. My friends and I, shrouded securely by the blackness of the night, would sit and quietly address the glowing embers, never really speaking directly to one another, but relying on everyone to understand and respond in the oblique, measured manner of adolescent boys. Those nights lifted us from isolation and, for a while, made us united with one another, rendering us-later, much later- the better for it.
In college, the discourse changed ever so slightly. We still felt the need to be together in the sports we played, to linger idly in the dormitory rooms, crowded together on unmade beds or perched in chairs turned backward to carefully listen to a weekend caper, or even the discontents we felt as students before the inequalities of the world as we were learning it.
Now, as an "adult", close friendships seem more difficult to nurture and sustain, yet it is strangely simpler to feel the comfort of one's friends. Though competition in all forms has driven us apart, for success, for money, for women, for power and esteem-there is in friendship now a greater clarity; our strengths and foibles more easily accepted. Those subtle moments seem now to mean the most: a complement unexpected, a visit in time of illness, reciting Yeats together in front of a fire over whiskey, a comforting pat on the back in times of difficulty, time unmeasured-when time alone can cure, a sure opinion when silence is the answer, the risk of criticizing or giving advice even in affairs of love, true pleasure at one another's success, and, perhaps most of all, the profound mutual joy of just knowing and having known each other.