And Then There Were Two
The following is a personal recollection.
Brooklyn College. I loved Brooklyn College. The time of my life, until I met my wife. I’ll set the scene further…
The year is 1982. I was 18, and living with my parents. I was painfully shy in high school, did not attend my prom, and had no friends. I received great report cards, made Honor Roll every semester, but I was not a social kind of guy. I neither watched nor played any sports. I spent my well-earned leisure time reading monster magazines and comic books, and watching old movies.
In other words, I was a party.
My first date referenced above was my very first date proper.
I attended Brooklyn College as a freshman with no idea as to a major. I knew I wanted to write for a living, but I realized early on that my success would be based more on who I knew, or met along the way, than what I knew. Making it as a writer would be an entrepreneurial effort. Knowledge without the contacts wouldn’t work.
I knew I wanted to major in a “fall back” profession for security purposes; what exactly, I hadn’t a clue.
Brooklyn College in 1982 had instituted their Core Curriculum. My first year in; lucky me. Their Core Curriculum — which I look back upon with appreciation — was meant to give all of us students a well-rounded education. In addition to the usual degree pre-requisites, every student who attended was required to take courses such as the literary Classics of Western Civilization, Philosophy, Chemistry, and so on. I found the homework intense, and the coursework excruciatingly boring.
However, it was during a Psychology core where I met Jen (name changed to protect the guilty). An hour later, as I transferred to my People, Power, and Politics class, Jen took the seat alongside me.
“You look familiar,” she said.
“You, too.” That was it. I was as verbose as I was exciting.
And it happened a third time. We transferred to Introduction to Art… and she spoke to me again. Like a human. That’s never happened before, much less twice in a day.
“Here we are again,” she said. Human, to me.
Jen majored in Special Education. She worked, she told me, with “troubled kids.” I was fascinated. I did some more research, and found my fallback. I’d major in the same. She was dating someone at the time, but we became fast confidantes. They had problems. My hormones were raging, especially around her. I had nothing to lose. We went to SUBO — the Student Union Building — and she told me she was breaking up with him.
“There’s something between us,” she said. “Tell me you feel it too.”
I felt it. Boy, did I feel it. I boldly told her she needed to break up with the other guy first, before we explored this sudden fortune.
The following night, she saw Cats, on Broadway, with her boyfriend. At the conclusion of Betty Buckley’s version of Memory, she turned to him and said, according to her account, “I met someone.”
“I met someone.”
Some context is in order. Jen’s comment had gravitas; this was a big deal. Her boyfriend at the time, in his twenties, was ill and on dialysis. He had other health issues related to his single kidney. Jen’s parents did not want their daughter anywhere near him as they expressed thoughts of the couple being unable to conceive, and further that Jen would become a “nursemaid” before her time.
Some of this, unfortunately, did turn out to be true.
I held Jen in my arms as she tearfully explained her guilt to me. Not so much the breakup itself but the nature of it. We kissed … and that was that. The next morning, Jen and I made out in the BC quad, on the grass, for about four hours.
We didn’t waste time. Or, more accurately, I didn’t waste time. Wisdom, I guess, comes with age. It’s the easiest excuse I can think of today.
I asked her out. I figured we were in safe territory by then. She surprised me, though.
“Mind if I bring my girlfriend?”
“Really?” This was getting more exciting by the moment.
“She’s single. You once told me about your cousin.”
Cuz and Sarah (name changed, same reason) hit it off famously. We went to eat, and then we went to Coney Island.
An amusement park may not have been the best idea that night…
The frivolities began. I got nauseous following a ride — the stress of my very first date, in general, combined with the spinning of the ride and the trauma of trying to look good in front of Jen outside of the safe school setting, caused me to throw up on the side of my car. Jen was worried, but she was also kind. She understood that the ride may have been a little much for me, and swore she wouldn’t hold it against me.
Following that gut-spilling episode, we set to re-enter my vehicle and keep with our original plans: dessert. Thing is, my keys were stuck in the car. Further… Cuz noticed the rear back tire was flat.
There were no cellphones back in 1982. Bully for us.
A cop came and thankfully helped us with both.
We managed to get to Jan’s, our local ice cream shop. Jen and I shared a banana split. She was way too into that banana split, and the jokes came fast and furious. Cuz and Sarah shared a sundae, to the best of my recollection.
It must have been three in the morning when we dropped off Cuz first, then Sarah. She liked him, she said. Just didn’t know if he was “boyfriend material.” I pulled to the curb, and waited until she entered her house. She waved. We waved back. Jen and I were alone at last. We drove to her house, where I had planned to drop her off.
I walked her to the driveway.
“You vomited,” she said, “locked the keys in the car, and got a flat tire.”
“Yeah,” was all I could mutter, embarrassed that my first date proper, with a girl I really was beginning to care about, didn’t go as planned. I turned to go.
“What? You’re not coming in?”
I came in. “Her parents weren’t home,” she told me.
I lost my virginity that night, and all I remember hearing from her was, “Don’t worry. We’ll get to it. Promise.” She kept her promise.
About twenty seconds later, Bar Mitzvah aside, I became a man.
It didn’t end there, though. Jen went to the bathroom. It was now about 5 AM, and I thought my parents must be freaking out. That, or my dad was celebrating, privately giving kudos to his boy. Mom wanted me to be a “gentleman.” I think I met the hopes of both.
But I digress.
I thought I had heard the door downstairs, but then reconsidered, figuring I was just overwhelmed. Jen’s parents were out of the state, and her brother was away. Who could possibly —
I heard her voice. I had met her once before, at school. Jen’s grandmother was walking up the stairs, fast approaching the bedroom.
1. I was present. 2. I was totally naked. 3. Jen had brought my clothes into the next bedroom so she could iron them later. I had told her my parents would figure it all out, but she insisted.
I became an Olympic-level sprinter that night. Not unlike a bad sitcom, I jumped from the bed, hid in Jen’s closet, and hoped against hope for the best.
I heard Jen say, thankfully, “In the bathroom, Gram. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
Grandma headed back downstairs. I left the closet, and stayed in Jen’s room for another thirty minutes. She had returned the clothes.
Her grandmother left. Jen and I kissed… and I went home.
I opened the door at 6:45-ish AM. My father shook my hand. My mom asked, “So, how was your first date?”
“It was okay,” I said, before excusing myself and returning to my comic books. I locked my door, and must have fallen asleep five minutes later.
Jen and I dated for two years. Things changed. She became distant. I broke up with her, as I didn’t want her to break up with me first. She then returned to her ex-boyfriend, with whom she married and had three children.
He suffered a debilitating stroke in his 50s, was paralyzed and could barely speak for over a decade, and died way too early in his 60s.
Jen and I stayed in sporadic touch through the years. She informed me of her husband’s passing less than a week ago at the time of this writing.
My heart is with her and her daughters.
Cuz and Debbie married and had two children. They are no longer together.
Today, I write and produce TV for a living. I happily celebrate being with my beautiful wife, Lorie, for nearly 20 years.
I met her on my birthday…
January 14, 2000. Happy Birthday.
35 years after Jen and I split, I sold my soul, attended a Jewish singles event, and met the woman of my dreams.
For those of you, regardless of religion or culture, similarly reluctant … lean on me.
I swore I would never attend a Jewish singles everything. Though I was in my mid-30s, single and desperate, surely I was not that desperate …
Bullshit. Hell yeah, I was that desperate. I just didn’t want the world to know, as if my very presence would have been featured on the 11:00 News or something.
No, I was not “self-important” in truth, and my ego wasn’t all that big (according to me). I just sincerely never saw myself sinking to those depths.
Speaking of, a peek at my lower regions verifies I’ve long been Jewish. I did not closely follow the religion, however, so that didn’t quite sell me.
“Hey Joel,” my imaginary friend said, “what are you doing tonight?”
“I’m going to synagogue.”
And so … I went. Just that once but the visit changed my life. What follows are the none-too-sordid details.
It was my 36th birthday. January 14, 2000. I had broken up with someone six months earlier — thank God — and I had absolutely nothing going on romantically.
Truth is, I was picky as hell and refused to settle. I also didn’t want to waste time with dates that went nowhere. (Obviously I created my own Sturm und Drang, but my stubbornness did me favors in the end. Read on.)
I took stock. There was a massage parlor about 20 miles away … No, wasn’t going to happen. I’m one of those rare carbon-based life forms who has never so much as toked a joint in his life. I was a “good Jewish boy.” Soliciting a “happy ending,” though I believe sex work should be legalized, licensed and regulated but that’s a story for another time, just wasn’t my bag.
It was Friday, though. My saving grace. On Fridays I usually met some friends for Happy Hour in Beverly Hills. I was the one who didn’t drink (I’m that guy), but I ate. Constantly.
Prior to leaving my apartment I logged onto my new computer, waiting 16.2 minutes for the modem to boot, and searched if there were any singles events going on later that evening.
There was. “Friday Night Live” they called it, at Sinai Temple in Beverly Hills.
Fuck all, I thought. Of all things.
There was no way I was going alone. I called my single Jewish friend, Joe. “Listen,” I said, “there’s a single Hebe event going on tonight — ”
“What’s a Hebe event?” asked my overly-analytical friend.
“A Jewish singles event, sorry.”
Why didn’t you say that?”
That was a damn good question, one of which I still can’t answer. “Doesn’t matter,” I said. “Want to meet me there?”
Jews are generally big on Jewish things. We agreed to meet at 6. The event started at 7.
I didn’t tell him it was my birthday.
First, though, Happy Hour beckoned.
My buddies wouldn’t know it was my birthday either.
We did the Happy Hour thing. Just myself, and two old buddies. I told them I had to leave early this time, as I had an “appointment.”
They didn’t fight it.
“You may want to put some mozzarella sticks in your pocket though in case you get hungry,” one of my buddies said.
They laughed; I left. They knew my truth — not that I was headed out to a Jewish singles event on my birthday, but that I was always hungry after Happy Hour.
I found a parking space on the next block from Sinai Temple. I was never big on underground garages; my neuroses prohibited me from parking anywhere alone as a claustrophobia risk. Regardless, I arrived early.
The doors to Sinai Temple had already opened and I walked inside.
I couldn’t wait to leave.
Single Jews as far as the eye could see. No exaggeration. And the chapel didn’t even open yet.
I began to sweat. I HATED scenes like this. I was a writer, an introvert, and way too self-conscious to be in this setting.
Joe arrived five minutes into my panic attack.
“Finally!” I blurted. “What took you so long?”
“I’m early,” he said. “How long were you here?”
“Almost an hour!”
He ignored me, and changed the subject. “They’re not letting anyone in the chapel yet?”
“Look,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m leaving. This isn’t my bag. I think I’d have more fun seeing a masseuse — ”
Joe turned to me, showing real emotion for the first time in … like, ever.
“Listen,” he whispered, close enough that he could kiss me. “You got my ass all the way over here, you’re staying for at least the service.”
He won. We checked in, and minutes later entered the now-open chapel.
Another 15 minutes passed, and nearly 2000 single Jewish men and women — about equal in proportion — now nearly completely filled the interior. There was room remaining here and there, but for the most part the benches were entirely full.
10 minutes thereafter, the service began. I was distracted by a latecomer looking for a seat. I thought she was profoundly attractive, and the way I thought back then I was confused as to why she would need to be there.
She took one of the few remaining spaces — the one to my immediate right. She smiled at me, and I felt immediately awkward.
“You come here often?” I actually asked.
She just smiled.
The service went on and at one point the Rabbi asked the congregation to “sway to the Shema,” a Jewish prayer in song. We were asked to “take hold of the person next to you” and follow his directive. Joe held my waist; I held his, and that beautiful woman to my right and I did the same.
We all swayed …
The service ended an hour later. There was a mixer after, and I wanted — no, I needed — to get to know this woman. I asked Joe to scram.
He got the picture. My request was well-received; he was smiling.
Lorie and I talked at the mixer. And then … the coincidences. I admitted that night was my birthday; it was also her parent’s anniversary. They were seven years apart in age; Lorie and I (yeah, it came up but I forgot who from) were seven years apart in age. I lived in Glendale; she lived down the block from my old apartment in Hollywood but had jury duty two blocks from my Glendale apartment beginning that Monday.
It went from there. We both expressed a love of theater, movies and music. However, just as everything seemed to be going tremendously well … I lied. I told her I had to get back home.
She seemed puzzled, but was very pleasant. We exchanged numbers and I promised to call.
No games. I called the next day. We scheduled a lunch. I also admitted to her something that she’s been teasing me about ever since: I left because I didn’t want to get boring.
We’ve been living happily ever after. In a little more than a year, Lorie and I will have been together for 20 years.
Once upon a time, she literally walked into my life. The Jews — my people! — have a word for the phenomenon: “bashert,” meaning the meeting of my soulmate was meant to be.
I love my tribe.
The morning after Lorie and I met, I called my parents in Florida. My mother answered.
“So, I went to a Jewish singles event last night — ”
“Are you kidding me? You?”
“I shouldn’t even ask, but did you meet anybody?”
“I think I did — ”
“WHA!! Rich, Joel met somebody at a Jewish event yesterday!”
“Leave him alone,” I heard from the background. “I’ll grill him later.”
“So you like her?” my very Jewish mother asked. “You think she’s the one?”
“I just met her a few hours ago!”
“Oh, I see. So what’s wrong with this one already?”
I couldn’t win. Still, my parents were very nearly in disbelief on our wedding day. My brothers were nearly in disbelief. My friends …
Oh, I almost forgot. Joe met a fine woman years later who he married, and one of my brothers, inspired by my success, eventually met his own wife at the same event.
Life is strange and oh, by the way?
Our wedding song was “On My Way to You,” sung by Barbra Streisand.
Truer words have never been spoken … or sung.
Life is cruel. Life is beautiful.
Thank you for reading.
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