Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Successful in Love

“You will be successful in love.” It came from a fortune cookie I got once. It’s stuck in a picture frame on my desk. The photo is of my wife in a hospital bed holding our daughter the day she was born. Such an incredible day in all of our lives. Such an incredible person who made such an incredible person. I really do feel like the luckiest man alive.

I realized something the other day: I am the second most important person in two very wonderful people’s lives. As it should be. Don’t read that as “favorite.” Just important.

Emily and I knew each other for around 15 years before we were married. We had off-and-on romantic connections over the years. We had some of the most nuclear fights I’ve had with anyone in my lifetime. Whatever happened, we always ended up back together in some regard. So after sowing my crazy oats with the Ranch lady, I realized that I needed to find someone rational and domestic with whom to build my family. Emily was a clear choice. I already knew I could be very happy with her, as well as have all the drama a grown man could ask for. I knew she loved kids, and she was a reasonable person (about most things).

I think one of the reasons people say we “seem to like each other” or similar sentiments contrasting our relationship to what many consider to be “the norm” these days is that we went into our marriage knowing how difficult it can be sometimes. We weren’t under any illusions the way I imagine a lot of celebrity marriages seem to start. I don’t have any inside track on any celebrity marriages, but I imagine that two gorgeous people with millions of adoring fans get together thinking everything will be great, but they maybe haven’t thoroughly tested the waters to see how things will go through the thick and thin and all that. Then there’s all the opportunities they have to be unfaithful. And not even just opportunities, but genuine temptation as dozens of people likely throw themselves at them. I just heard that Antonio Banderas is getting divorced. Was it really a surprise to anyone that he had an affair? Sure, there are plenty of good, honest, dependable, faithful people out there. Then there are the actors.

So I think one of the keys to our success as a couple (8 years and counting) is that we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew it wasn’t going to be perfect. Even our honeymoon in Venice was less than perfect, and we had at least one doozy of a fight right there on the island. It was about being lost, not being able to read the map, not asking for directions. Luckily the tension was broken when we saw this:
We were trying to find St. Mark’s cathedral and the island was getting really confusing. Once we saw this we just laughed. That’s one of the keys as well: we can laugh about things, no matter how bad they were. In fact, the worse they are the more we laugh later. The laughter is so important.
I don’t mean to brag but I do think I’m just about as lucky as they get. Of all the lotteries I’ve never won, all the huge promotions and private jets I’ve never gotten, all the fame and riches I will probably never know, I believe I am happier than the people who do get those things. I’ll take my little laughing family over all of that.

Friday, May 30, 2014

I'm not saying I'm better than anyone

My daughter turns 5 tomorrow.
When my wife was 5 she kicked her father in the head for spanking her and he left.

I've been wondering ever since we got married and especially since we had the kid if I would make it as far as Wayne did. I mean, I didn't go into this family with the intention of breaking it up. Who really does that? On some level they think they will make it work, that it will be good and happy and fun. But I have to be realistic. With the rate of divorce in this country in my lifetime alone, including my parents, my mom’s parents, and I guess most of my family that I know, I had to realize that there was a chance that it wouldn't last. Emily and I had had our bouts. We had been as happy and as unhappy as a non-married couple where both people survive can be expected to be. So I guess in the back of my mind I have always kept the thought that, “if it gets really bad, I can get out.” And now, if it does get bad, I just lean back a little and I see that divorce option in my peripheral, and I’m like, “nah, it’s not that bad.” In fact, almost every time I've even thought about it, I've concluded that it's not even bad, let alone “that bad.” It just gets annoying sometimes.

I know without a doubt that it gets a lot more annoying for her than it does for me. That’s not to say that she’s uptight and hypersensitive and inflexible. I would not say that. It’s that I know how annoying I can be. I don’t mean to, it just happens. There’s something about my thought processes where I just end up thinking of the most annoying thing to do or say and it seems funny to me so I do it. I get really tense if I don’t. It sits there, heavy, tight, keeping me from being able to move on. I start shaking. I bare my teeth. She says, “What? What is it? What did I do wrong?” I don’t know why, she just always assumes I’m blaming her for something. And I’ll keep grimacing and vibrating for another couple of seconds, my good sense challenging my urge to form the words and let them out, and finally I’ll say it, through a throat constricted with effort from the unrelinquishing plight of the better of me. And it will be a crass pun worthy of a 6th-grader in a PG-13 movie. So yeah, she has a lot more reason to be annoyed than I do.

So tomorrow the kid is 5. Emily and I are nowhere near splitting up. We’re probably as happy as we've ever been outside of occasional moments on the aimless road trips we used to take. No complaints. We agree on how to raise the girl. We agree that the balance she receives from the opposing personalities of both parents is crucial to her upbringing. I think her biggest hangup is her fear of disappointing us.

So, even though I doubt it was the day of Emily’s 5th birthday that her dad left, I count myself as having made it. I know there’s a long way left to go, and I’m looking forward to every bit of it, but this is one of my milestones. If I can make it until she’s in high school I did better than my parents. One thing at a time. I’ll wager I’ll have some new examples before then to count as little victories along the way, I’m sorry to say. I know one couple I’m pretty sure is bound for that road. I don’t see specific problems (we’re not that close anymore) but based on what I do know about them, I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't make it past the 10-year mark.

I've already said too much.

Daniel 5:15

A funny thing happened to me at the supermarket.
I was checking out, when I noticed a dry erase board on the wall behind the manager’s station at the front of the store under the windows. The sign said “Daniel 5:15”.
So I thought, “is that reference to a Bible verse, or is it saying that Daniel’s shift will start at 5:15?” So I got out my phone and Googled it. I found that the Bible verse at Daniel 5:15 is roughly this:
“Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter.” 
Now that’s what I call irony.
So I went back to that same market the next day. The dry erase board today said “Cora 11:45.” Pretty sure there’s no book of Cora in the Bible. Plus the girl bagging the groceries at my line was named Cora. So still not sure what the sign indicates, perhaps a break. In any case, it’s probably not any reference to a holy book. Not the inspirational “John 3:16” kind of thing I suspected. Funny.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

All Out of Grandparents - to the memory of Martha and Stan Coutant

I've been realizing that I have no natural grandparents left. I don't feel THAT old, but I guess I am. Ever since 100-year-old Martha passed away, they're all gone. At least I got to know them all. But the one I knew best was Martha. Not just because she lived the longest, but because she was the most involved.

From the time I was born, Grandma Martha ("Gramma" as we knew her) lived a few blocks away at 666 E. Sierra Madre Blvd. Don't look for it, it's not there anymore.
She and Grampa (Stan Sr.) lived in the 2-bedroom house where my dad grew up. They had a swimming pool, where my brother and I learned to swim, dive, cannonball, whatever you could think of.
In their bedroom there was a piece of furniture, old, heavily-stained to almost black wood, with a compartment on each side which had a hinged lid. The compartment on the right was known to us as the "Surprise Box" and, just about every time we went over there, there was a pair of new toys in the Surprise Box.
Gramma and Grampa had two pet tortoises, Humphrey and Humphrina, who wandered the back yard. They also had dogs, little black things, named Mac and Beth (I don't know if the names were meant to go together, but I didn't put them together until adulthood decades after the passing of both dogs).
Grampa was often in his workshop out back, building things, fixing things, talking on his Ham radios (which were never tuned quite right so the voices coming from the other end sounded like twisted little cartoon characters). I also remember him making ice cream in the summer, with the bucket and the ice and the salt, in the back yard behind the pool. When he wasn't outside, he was usually either in his big tan recliner reading the paper, or he was sitting at the dining table drinking coffee and reading the paper.
Gramma made cookies a lot. There were oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip and peanut butter. The oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies seemed to be dolloped onto the pan and they stayed that way, so the cookies were little piles of oatmeal. She also made her own yogurt, which she ate plain, but would give us fruit to put in ours, which didn't save it from being the sour, watery mess it was.
The house was not remarkable. We rarely used the front door, which opened into the living room, with the old TV right there when you walk in. It had parkay floors, an old electric organ, a desk under the front window, but very little light otherwise. Gramma's chair was wooden, with wide arms and cushions. She had a footrest in front of it which usually supported newspapers and magazines rather than feet, as I recall. Between her chair and Grampa's recliner was a glass-top table made of yellow wood, which I am happy to have in my home today, serving as the coffee table in front of our recliner and loveseat.
Next to the living room was what I will call the Dining Nook. Not a room of its own, it opened off of the living room and had a window overlooking the swimming pool. A large wooden table which reminded me of a picnic table was their dining set. There were long benches on each long side of the table, and a chair at each end. Grampa sat on the left (from the kitchen) next to his recliner. Gramma rarely sat.
There was a large credenza in the dining nook, of the same dark, almost black wood of the Surprise Box. Sadly, all the antique furniture she had in the house was stolen from the Johnson Valley house in a burglary a few years ago.
The bathroom was not large. It had the kind of sink with separate faucets for the hot and the cold water, with the small spigot which barely hung over the back of the sink, so you couldn't get your hands wet without rubbing them against the back of the basin. You also couldn't mix the hot and cold to get warm until you let it run out and pool up in the basin or in your hands. I don't remember the bathing situation, but it seems like they had only a shower, no bathtub.
We spent many a summer's day over there, swimming, snacking, playing, reading, making Shrinky Dinks and all sorts of other crafts. Gramma and Grampa would take us to museums, shows, Griffith Park, the zoo. Our childhood wouldn't have been anything like it was if it hadn't been for my dad's parents. I wish I could remember more, but I wanted to write this much down while I could still remember.
We miss you Gramma and Grampa. We thank you for all you did for us, all that you taught us.