The sidewalk is crowded with restaurant tables. On a sunny day, the tables are filled with smiling faces, enjoying the great food and wine. It is a sunny day. People pass by, then they stop. They can’t resist the smell of the good food wafting out of the restaurants. They take their seats. A waiter comes out with a menu and his suggestions. My wife takes the waiter’s suggestion. I order a glass of wine, rolls and a salad. “Make sure you sprinkle it with cheese,” I urge. He gives me a smile and an “of course”. Then we put away our phones and go for some genuine conversation. Something we don’t often do. The sidewalk tables seem to demand it. To text here with this food and the lovely people would be blasphemy.
Here’s something to think about. And it’s a big something too. From the moment you’re born, you’re auditioning. Sure, your mommy’s going to love you. But think about this. By the time you come out of her, you’ve been auditioning for nine months. After a lot of interviews, wallah,you’ve got the job. You’re her kid. I didn’t say her darling. That’s a whole other thing. That role may go to your older brother or sister. They may be the cute one. You may have the role of pain-in-the-butt. Remember the Smothers Brothers. Dick got all the goodies, Tom got the chicken.
What about Dad? you ask. You know we’re in deep doo-doo if he says, “I’ve got five others just like him. So you’re going to have to do some cooing and goo-goo-ga-ga-ing for him big time. Smile when he comes into the room. Always smile. Smiling works every time. Adults like smiling. Smiling will get you into Harvard. And don’t tell me your poop don’t stink. It always stinks.
You know you’re in for bad things if mom or pop turns to big sis and says, “Go change your brother’s diaper. “ The audition with big sis ain’t going to go well. You pooped. You do not want to do that at an audition. It just ain’t cool. Later in life, she will get even. When you’ve crashed your dad’s car and you want help, she won’t be there. Because she had to clean up your poop. Get on big sis’s good side and it will serve you in good stead.
Next thing you know you’re walking and getting into everything. You know things are going well if mommy says, “Ain’t that the cutest thing.” It’s a statement, not a question. But be careful. If dad comes in and says, “Hey, he just broke my favorite coffee mug. You know the one I won at the annual bean-eating contest. The one I got for beating the crap out of Marvin,” You know where that’s going to go. And he won’t be saying “crap” either. He’ll be saying that other word that stands in for poop. So don’t break any of Dad’s stuff. He’ll appreciate it and remember what a good kid you were.
Oh, you don’t think he’ll remember. You know how you’ll know. When he hands you the keys to that really cool car for your sixteenth birthday and says, “You’ve earned it.” There’s this big smile on his face. It ain’t because your grades are good. You’re a C student at best. No, it’s because you did auditioning well. Your poop didn’t stink that bad. You didn’t break any of his precious things.
And don’t get me started about table manners. You are going to have to eat that baby crap for a while. So don’t make faces. They don’t like faces, unless they’re cute faces.
Then there’s that first class in school. You’re auditioning there as well. You can either audition for the teacher or for your fellow students. Go for your fellow students. Your teacher is only going to be around for one year. Your fellow students are going to be around for, like FOREVER. So you had better impress them big time or your life is going to be a living h-e-double-hockey-sticks. Look across the room and find the kid you like the least. Immediately walk over and hit him in the face. He’s going to say, “What’d you want to do that for?” Best say nothing. You’ve impressed the other prisoners. I mean, kids.
This kid you just socked will turn out to be your best friend for life. For life, man. You can’t ask for a better friend than that. He’ll watch your back when you steal that car. He’ll be there for you when you need a sponsor in AA. You will be his Eddie Haskel and he’ll be your Wally Cleaver. Can’t do better than that, can you? On top of all the trouble he’ll keep you out of, his mom will be June Cleaver. And, man, June Cleaver could cook. Not like your mom.
So that’s your life. You will be auditioning for role after role. For that first date. For that college you really really want to get into. For that person you will eventually marry. For that boss whose position you want. For that bank that will give you a mortgage and a credit card. For those two-point-seven kids that will make you a real American family. For those neighbors who always keep their house in tip-top shape and their lawn well manicured. (You keep wondering how he can afford the maintenance and the really cool stuff. Embezzling would be my guess.) For that divorce lawyer you will need. And you will want a good one. Your spouse is about to take everything. For that coffin you will have to fit into.
And last, but not least. There’s God. That audition is going to be real scary.
“I’m thinking that guy needs help,” Elvis said to Cutie Pie as he viewed Picasso’s “Reclining Nude”.
C P frowned when she heard that. “Help? He’s Picasso.”
“So. Big whoopee.”
“You just don’t get great art. Your idea of great art are those velvet paintings you buy at the side of the road.”
“Yeah,” Elvis came back. “What’s wrong with that?”
“This is great art.”
“It’s supposed to be a naked woman. I don’t get it. It looks like a bunch of vegetables to me.”
“Maybe Picasso was saying that women are vegetables. What kind of vegetable do you think I am?”
“Oh,” Elvis was sure of his answer to this one, “you’re an onion.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You taste good. And you make me cry alot.”
C P was surprised. “Cry a lot? I didn’t know you were so sensitive.”
“Out of frustration trying to figure you out.”
C P laughed. She laughed hard. Then, “You don’t try to figure a woman out.”
“Oh, yeah. How else am I going to get along with you?”
C P sighed. What was she going to do with him? She shook her head and walked away from the vegetables on the canvas and over to a Salvador Dali.
C P said. ‘Maybe you can figure this one out. It’s got male brain written all over it.”
Our Mother is dying.
Why aren’t we trying
To live the answer
That’ll heal her cancer?
The disease is a rout,
Her hair’s falling out;
Her colors up and gone,
Her breath almost to none,
Her blue eyes a gray,
Her smile’s slipped away,
And soon she will cease.
May the planet rest in peace.
Then we’ll say a eulogy,
Offer an apology
On that day soon to come
When her beauty’s all gone:
For her dulling colors,
Her polluted waters,
Her forests now dust,
And her air turned to rust.
Her hills won’t be green,
No robins to sing,
The whales dead and beached,
And oceans smell of stench.
Then we’ll send our request
And give it our best,
A prayer for a world
Uncluttered and spoiled.
“No thanks,” God will answer,
“You caused the cancer.
While racing for the stars,
You turned the Earth into Mars.
And tried for all its worth
To turn Mars into Earth.”
And this from God above,
“I gave you one planet to love.”
“Why do you always run off to the shower after we make love?” This could be the man or the woman asking. On this particular night, it is the woman.
The man, her husband, slides back into bed beside his wife’s naked body, reaches over, kisses her lightly on the lips. She resists his kiss.
He withdraws to a few inches from her face. “You know you can join me in the shower. It’s not like there’s not enough room.” The best defense is a good offense.
He’s not ready to give up on that kiss. He tries again for her lips.
She is having none of his attempts at getting on her good side. “All I want is to be close,” she says, moving her lips away from his.
“I’m trying to be close now.” He catches her cheek with his kiss.
She pushes him away. “It isn’t the same. After we have sex, all you do is run away.” Slipping over to her edge of the bed, she gives him her back, then pulls the sheet tight around her, making it into a cocoon.
He drops off to his side of the bed. “But … Lenore,” he protests.
“Why do you choose to call me that?” she tosses over her shoulder at him. “You know I don’t like it, Sam.”
“What do you mean? Call you what?” he speaks to her back.
“Lenore,” she says the name as if it is a curse.
“That’s your name, isn’t it?” Of course it’s her name.
“It’s what my mother calls me. But I’m Nora and you most definitely know that.” Of course he knows it. He has called her Nora a thousand times and more. Her back is now a wall and she’s not allowing any climbing over it. Not for this night anyway.
”I like Lenore. It has such a romance to it. Just like you.”
Silence. Not a sound coming from behind that wall.
After several minutes of waiting for a truce and a goodnight kiss, he reaches over and switches off the bedside light, sighs and slides deeper into the bed. He lies on his back and studies the shadows spreading out across the room as the night grows deeper.
A sob escapes through a crack in that impenetrable wall lying next to him. His wife is crying, pouring herself into her pillow. He reaches over to offer her a tender, comforting touch.
She moves away from his hand and rolls over and faces him. “My name is Nora. And just why do you always feel the need to wash me off after we have sex? Guess you can’t stand the smell of me, the taste of me, the touch of me on your skin. Bet you can’t even stand the sound of me.”
He starts to protest but holds it in.
“Next thing I know you won’t even be able to stand the sight of me.” Shoving the covers off, she jumps out of bed, grabs her robe, heads for the door. Takes one last look at the man in her bed. “Ever since Candace went away to college,” she says, changing the subject but not really. She throws the robe on and heads off down the hall.
He calls after her. “Candace doesn’t like Candace for a name, you know.” Their daughter likes to be called Dash.
“That’s her name, Sam-u-el,” she cries out into the night. She’s Candace’s mother and she can call her daughter any damned name she wants. Why doesn’t he understand that?
“And Lenore is yours,” he wants to yell back but doesn’t. She is the woman he loves, has always loved, and he knows that this is not a good time to call out “Lenore”.
He moves over onto his side and faces the wall, pulls the sheet closer around his body. He hates these dark, restless nights when nothing seems to go right. When everything he tries is wrong.
He waits in the dark and hopes. What is he hoping for? That she’ll come back to bed? That he can somehow show her that he didn’t mean for the night to turn out the way it has? Maybe that, after twenty years of marriage, things can change? That he can change? He keeps hoping but he knows. This will not be the night.
It’s one thirty and he has to get up in the morning for work. But he’s not going to get any sleep. Not till Lenore comes back to bed, and they make up.
Why does he keep calling her Lenore? he wonders in his sleeplessness. He knows how much she hates it. It’s only at times like these when he drops his guard that she she is no longer an average, everyday Nora. She is the Lenore of his best dreams and he is recalling their honeymoon in that long-ago before twenty years wore down their marriage.
He glances over at the clock on his nightstand once again. It’s two and she’s not coming back. He slips out of bed, pulls on this pajama bottoms and a robe.
Downstairs and out on the patio, she hears him slide the glass door open behind her. “I’m not mad,” she says to nobody in particular. “It’s just that, well I’m not mad.” This time she’s speaking to her husband.
There she goes. Making peace. Why does she always do that? he wonders. “I was a jerk,” he says, looking at the back of her neck. The moon throws its light across the room, and he can’t ever remember seeing anything so beautiful.
“No, you were just being you.” Her voice is soft and lonely. Then she thinks, “There I go again, making peace. Why do I always do that?”
He doesn’t know what else to say or do so he waits.
She looks over her shoulder and up into his face. His eyes gaze at her the way he did that first night oh-so-many-years-before on the the beach where they first fell in love. Her hand reaches out for his, takes it, draws him to her side on the bench. “I love this house,” she says.
“It has been a good house.” He sits down next to her.
“I wasn’t sure it was the one for us.” She leans her head on his shoulder.
“I didn’t know that.” He squeezes her hand with all the affection that comes from years of loving and arguing and making up and arguing and making up some more. “I wasn’t that positive myself.”
She squeezes back. Her head feels the strength of the shoulder she has always known that she can lean on no matter what. No matter what. She then takes her head off his shoulder and looks up at the sky. “That sure is a pretty moon.”
“We didn’t think we’d we be here that long.”
“And, my god, the mortgage.” She laughs.
“We’d never owed that much money to anybody. But Dash loved it.”
“We thought we were buying the moon. Five years old and Candace knew it was for us.”
“Why do you keep on calling her Candace?” he whispers. “You know how much she hates it.”
“Why do you insist on calling me Lenore?” she whispers back. “It spoils everything.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he says, unsure how to tell her all that her name means to him.
“I can see we got what we paid for.” She is back thinking about the house.
“It was a good price.”
She points toward the sky. “We got that moon too, and it is much better than the one we thought we were buying.” She looks at it for several minutes. “You think that Brett and Dash will last as long as we have?”
“I hope so. He seems to love her but not as much as I loved you then, Nora.” He kisses Lenore, not a soft easy kiss, not a deep passionate kiss, but a kiss that makes up for everything. And she kisses him. Then he whispers, “And still love you.”
She stands, reaches for his hand, and they go inside.
On the way up the stairs, he says, ”If you let me call you Lenore every-once-in-a-while, I promise not to run off to the shower after we make love.”
“Only when we’re alone,” she says from the stair above him.
He nods yes, and they are back in bed and soon asleep.
Forgiveness fills the house as it has so many times before and they continue their married life together. At least for one more day.
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.