As a young child I fantasized about my future romantic life, fueled by visions from old movies. My Fred Astaire danced with me as a sleek Ginger Rogers to “Dancing in the Dark.” My partner would be tall and handsome and debonair, some Fred Astaire, a bit of David Niven and the voice and shoulders of Cary Grant.
After our dance, we would saunter out onto a marvelous marble balcony (picture the von Trapp family mansion in Austria) and he would recite lines from Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Shakespeare or in his darker mood, the last stanza of Matthew Arnold’s melancholy poem "Dover Beach."
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
My lover would be enigmatic, but then his melancholy poem ends and a young girl’s romantic imagination takes its naïve flight as I comfort him with kisses.
Naturally in this fantasy I look much like Sophia Loren dancing with Cary Grant in “Houseboat.” I’m a hot babe in a gold dress with that cute little Italian haircut and moving smoothly to “Almost in Your Arms.”
Game over. This is not my real life. The theme song isn't some romantic woozy ballad, it is something from Dr. Demento or Firesign Theatre.
My Cary Grant is a short-ish college professor who wears half glasses and sweater vests, and often keeps a red pen in his shirt pocket. He’s brilliant and well-read, but he can’t dance (reference Elaine Benes on Seinfeld.)
And when we were younger, he liked to wear Gilligan caps, Mr. Bubble T-shirts and was the funniest damn person I ever met. Ever. Still is.
The following anecdote well symbolizes what our lives have been like for the past thirty plus years. He's got nothin' on Cary Grant.
Sometime in the last century near the Gulf of Mexico—he’s purchased an engagement ring for me with his lucrative salary as a third-shirt janitor at a hospital and we visit a gazebo on Clearwater Bay so he can present me with the ring.
He carves our initials on one of the wooden posts (all Hoosier boys used to carry pocket-knives) and just as he’s ready to pop the question a carload of people pull up in a very noisy, smell old sedan. And I mean a carload, think clowns in a Volkswagen.
They were non-English speaking people who were interested in bathing in the Bay. I am not making this up (okay, well, I'm making part of it up using the time and space continuum.)
Nothing is as romantic as watching a Chevy-load of total strangers bathe fully clothed at sunset over Clearwater Bay.
In spite of the scene from Renoir's Bathers, he asked me and I said yes. Yes, a million times yes.
Thirty some years later he still has two Mr. Bubble shirts and wears them on the weekends. Let's just say he's eclectic. Our usual discussions may range from an upcoming visit to the La Scala Opera House, or a discussion of the efficacy of Mr. Bubble. And he can recite verse after verse. He knows every word to every rock and roll song ever written. Oh, Devil with the Blue Dress!
That is my idea of a Renaissance man.
Real romance is someone who can laugh with you, someone who will clean you up when you've had one too many champagne cocktails on vacation and barfed off the balcony, someone who--unprompted--wears a red vest to your mother's funeral because it was her favorite color.
Eat your heart out, ladies.