October 7, 2009

The Tangerine Leisure Suit

The week Richard Nixon resigned as President in 1974, I met another high school senior-to-be at a summer workshop at Kansas State University. He was a tall, strapping farm boy. I was smitten with his looks and confidence, despite having few common interests.

We dated until the end of my sophomore year in college when one day he unceremoniously dumped me. I came home from class and he was sitting backwards on my wooden desk chair, talking to my roommate. The next thing I knew, she left the room and without any irony whatsoever he said we were through, finished, kaput.

I was devastated. I did not see it coming. I think I was possibly in love with the idea of love, because we had nothing in common. He was an outdoorsman, and enjoyed scuba diving. With my pale skin, I burned within minutes of being outside and preferred my nose in a book rather than a scuba mask. We both liked the ocean – he in it – me reading in front of it.

In my head, we would graduate from college, marry, have two children named Jennifer and Will, and build a house next to his parents or on my grandparent’s farm. He would teach high school agriculture and I would write for the local newspaper. I worked it all out.

I spent the next 3 years of my life pining over The Boyfriend. The first summer after he dumped me, I had a difficult time. I “mooned” in my pink childhood bedroom. This is the old-fashioned use of the term. It does not mean I pulled down my pants and stuck my rear-end out the window and shouted, “Here’s your lunar landing” to the neighbors.

It means I sat alone typing on my Smith-Corona electric typewriter all kinds of goofy love poems about my rejected soul. My high school friends were scattered, and I was alone in this recession-affected rural town with no job and no transportation. I was sad.

In August 1977, I went to a journalism workshop at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

I went out with friends the night before, celebrating the end of the horrid summer. You might say we tied one on. Or two.

I was a vision the following morning because I didn’t shower, didn’t sleep at all, and wore low-slung, wide bell-bottom, holey jeans, a wrinkled T-shirt, and a red bandana tied around my dirty hair. Who cares, really? I was planning to sleep in the car until we got to Ohio U.

We left from Ball State’s West Quad parking lot. Two strangers arrived to make the four or five hour trip to southeast Ohio.

The girl had the most annoying, high pitched, squeaky voice I’ve ever heard, a cross between fingernails on a chalkboard and steam escaping from a teakettle. She talked constantly in run-on sentences.

The second person was a male who had on dirty white tennis shoes, white polyester pants that were too short, a dirty, wrinkled white dress shirt with the sleeves haphazardly rolled up, and a white hat like Gilligan wore on the TV show of the same name. He certainly had not shaved in a week, and I do not think he was nearly awake.

This Man Beast mumbled something about being the driver and motioned to a vehicle that was his car. I was not used to college boys driving a 1965 Cadillac Sedan de Ville, black with a red leather interior. Among its features was a heater that was perpetually on (a concern, this being August), and electronic windows that did not work. The 4-door car “was about nineteen feet long” according to the owner, and had chrome fins.

Immediately after getting in the car, the young man asked me if I knew how to get to Athens, Ohio, from Muncie, Indiana.

I had no idea. I spouted off anyway; I thought we should go through Indianapolis and then east on I-70. What did I care? I was going to sleep.

Look at a map. Going through Indianapolis is like going through Tampa from Miami to get to Disney World.

I immediately fell asleep in the heated car, nodding off while the squeaky-voiced blonde babbled non-stop to the bewildered lost Man Beast. We arrived eight hours later for this four-hour trip.

We still had not arrived at Ohio University, though we could see our destination across the Hocking River. I awoke to find the Caddy at the end of a dirt road near the riverbank with the large campus beyond, like Oz across the poppy fields.

Somehow, we figured how to get to campus. Other students, some of whom I knew, were waiting for us, hanging out the windows of the Martzoff House, our dorm. I stormed out of the car and said to my friends, “I never want to see that S.O.B. (meaning the driver) ever again.”

Only I did not use the initials. I did not really care for the Man Beast or his car or his blonde friend.

Attending that college journalism workshop turned out to be a huge turning point for me. My remaining college years were great because of the wonderful group of friends I met working on the college yearbook--including the Man Beast.

After he shaved, I found his clear blue eyes and radiant crooked smile very appealing.

We developed a lovely friendship that lasted, well; you have to read the rest of the story. The Man Beast and I hung with a great group of friends interested in music, movies, and books. And endless late night discussions and arguments about the whys and hows of everything that was or ever would be. No IPods or even CDs, we listened to albums and drank cheap beer and played endless backgammon games. Billy Joel and Miller Lite, Bob Seger and the $4 per case Wisconsin Club, and the Eagles and Old Milwaukee.

Soon after I left Ball State, The Boyfriend reappeared in my life. And we began dating again. Just like that.

Something interesting happened during my years of pining for him. I did not want him anymore, and I certainly did not want to build a house next to his parents or on my grandparent’s farm. Or get married to anybody, anytime soon.

When we were together, I compared everything about him to the Man Beast, my friend. One time The Boyfriend looked over at me in the car and said, “Why don’t you just go marry So and So?”

By then the Man Beast and I had become good friends. In fact we spent a lot of time together that summer. His incredible sense of humor was legendary. When the often quiet Mad Beast commented on something, it was always funny, pithy, and right on target.

One weekend The Boyfriend cancelled our weekend plans at the last minute. He had committed to take me to a wedding.

I asked the Man Beast to go with me and he said, “Sure.”

He was always complaining about a suit his mother bought him. This Salute to the ‘70s was a tangerine leisure suit with a shiny, black flowered polyester shirt with tangerine piping. He wore a gold medallion over the shiny shirt which was unbuttoned too far down.

When I asked him to go to the wedding, I specifically requested that he not wear that awful suit.

When I went to his house, he was wearing the tangerine suit in all its glory. He got in the car and said, “Let’s go,” and didn’t say another word until the car was half a mile away from the house.

“My other suit is back at the house,” he said, deadpan.

I had been had.

Later that summer two odd couples went out for a drive. The Boyfriend, I, the Man Beast, and another girl pulled into Burkee’s Drive In for cold ice cream on a hot summer day

The Man Beast wanted a root beer float and ordered it from the carhop.

The teenager said, “We don’t have root beer floats.”

We are all thinking, what kind of ice cream place doesn’t have root beer floats?

The Man Beast said, “Okay, what kind of floats do you have?”

The carhop said, “Coke, Orange, 7-Up, and Tab.”

The Man Beast said, “I’ll have a Tab float.”

The Boyfriend almost wet his pants. He just didn’t know people with a strange sense of humor, who would carry out a joke to its least logical conclusion.

The Man Beast took his Tab float in the frosty mug off the car window tray and drank it. Without breaking a smile.

The Boyfriend was a nice enough fellow –a college graduate with a bright future ahead. However, he didn’t seem to ever get our jokes, and we were very different. Truthfully, I think he knew that when we were 19.

He thought Ferlinghetti was a race car driver and Rachmaninoff a type of salad dressing. I was not much interested in anything related to agriculture or scuba diving or the ocean. He preferred modern furniture and glass tabletops and no clutter. I preferred dusty library tables and Duncan Fyffe chairs and stacks of unread books, magazines, and newspapers. What had I been thinking?

My parents took me to see Brigadoon at a dinner theatre for my 25th birthday. I heard the character Fiona belt a song about being “unmarried and 25.”

I had an epiphany right there in the Wagon Wheel Playhouse.

What in the world was I doing with this guy?

I dumped him the next day, just as his mother warned him I would when we got back together. I mailed him a copy of A Catcher in the Rye with passages highlighted. For the life of me, I cannot remember why the thoughts of an adolescent Holden Caulfield had anything do with the breakup.

A month later, I moved to Florida, where a pasty-faced girl can sit under a beach umbrella and read.

The Man Beast wrote me a letter a week after I arrived in Florida. We wrote letters when apart since we met in 1977.

His first letter said, “I can’t believe you left. I am in love with you.” There was more but I’ll save it for my memoirs.

The next day I received an identical envelope with a letter inside that began, “I wasn’t kidding yesterday.”

That was the beginning, or the middle, of a beautiful love story, which goes on today. On Saturday, October 27, we will celebrate twenty-five happy years of marriage. (He says it has been the best 18 years of his life.)

Last Saturday he got up early and was eating breakfast when I dragged myself to the kitchen around 10 a.m. He was wearing Homer Simpson pajama bottom that read, “I am so Smrt,” a T-shirt shirt that featured a quote from Oscar Wilde, “Only boring people are brilliant at breakfast.” His hair stuck straight up, and he was eating a burrito, drinking Hawaiian punch, and doing the Saturday crossword in pen.

I said nothing. He looked up from his repast and his puzzle and said, “I’m the whole package, baby.”

Yes, yes he is. Quite the package. Quoth the raven.