“Love: a temporary insanity, curable by marriage.” Ambrose Bierce
TWENTY OF THOSE
We’ve come to some kind of milestone, The Mister and me. That’s milestone, not millstone. Some may have reached twenty years of marriage carrying more baggage than when they started but we seem to be doing all right. The remaining distance on our marital path is still to be determined so we’ll keep a sharp eye out for signs along the road.
In the beginning, for what we call our formative years, The Mister and I were hard at this marriage. We came to it as strangers, but strangers who seemed to intuit that we were meeting at a crossroads—in Paris as it turned out—and though we were on different paths at the time, we were going to be trotting alongside each other for the duration.
So, we were not only strangers, but also strangers with egos. We were both artists—he of the musical kind and me, then, of the painting kind—and the notion that we would sail happily off into a Van Gogh sunset holding hands was quickly ignited by fiery temperament (me) and then doused with British resistance to temperament (him). The soundtrack to our lives was more “Stormy Weather” than “What a Wonderful World.” We do still hold hands.
Anniversaries are celebrated, though we have put to rest the birthdays because we no longer feel the need to mark time. At this time of our lives we don’t age, we flower. But a nod to the pleasurable endurance of our partnership—and that we survived the formative years and came out with creative spirit not only intact but also stronger—is always welcome.
The Mister learned very early on that as a first anniversary present a CD just would not do and he followed that up with a brilliant second. An envelope left for me on the morning of our second anniversary proved to be the Chinese Box that held the envelope within an envelope within…instructions in each which I was to follow throughout the day until I arrived at The Empire State Building. Opening that envelope revealed a ticket to the observatory deck. At the entrance to the observatory the final envelope directed me to a corner of the deck. There he was. The Mister had ready a chilled bottle of champagne and two crystal glasses, which he had carefully wrapped in tea towels. Unheard of in today’s terror preparedness where a champagne bottle might easily be construed as a concealed weapon. And let’s face it, the sharp explosion of a cork in a crowd could send panicky camera wielding tourists over the edge, still popping flash bulbs on their way down, no doubt.
Tom Jones hosted our anniversary early on. Well, he had a gig and we went. Whatever argument had roiled on the pavement outside the Limelight on an evening in early Spring (The Potential Twins were still in the formative years) spiraled off the dance floor and disappeared into the mirror ball as we sang along at the top of our lungs, forgetting our squabble earlier (which had probably been stewing for days) and imploring Delilah instead we screamed: “Why, why, why?”
In May of ’96, we were lucky to celebrate at Rainbow & Stars—then a great Manhattan cabaret. A friend booked the acts there at the time and we found ourselves ringside at Anthony Newley’s last appearance. It was a monumental event for us, both being great fans of the man, like, forever; one of the numerous clues to our endurance as a couple. It was some enchanted evening, undimmed by his pronouncement from the stage that he was there only because he went to Vegas for 22 years, married some absolutely charming women and gave them all his money. Happily, that’s not why we were there.
Finances dictated our anniversarial destinations but not our intent. Scraping by, we would opt for a romantic ride on the Staten Island Ferry, both pre-and-post the trained-to-kill guard dogs at the terminal. There was a sushi picnic in the north end of the park once, entertainment provided by the neighborhood softball teams. Pizza and sangria at V&T’s uptown could be as celebratory as anywhere else.
In the midst of bloated income from a hated job we took ourselves to Central Park south to Nirvana, one of the most expensive Indian restaurants in Manhattan at the time. The dining room overlooked Central Park and the expansive view was meant for diners to overlook the very unimpressive meal for which considerable payment demanded an armed escort. We never missed its demise and have happily discovered and return to the excellent affordable Indian restaurants along Lexington Avenue in the 20s. Freeing ourselves from the tourist trap and feeling undone because we were certainly not tourists and spoke no Texan, we escaped into Central Park at the south end, aiming to walk off the experience and head north for home. Walking: another clue to our endurance. We walk, a lot. Arguments are sorted, songs are flushed out, hands are held.
It was late and still not the ‘wonderland’ that tourists had turned it into. A man approached us, kinda wild looking and asked if we wanted a joint. These were the dangerous days of New York City when excitement was still a possibility. David Dinkins was the first African American mayor, a position not yet to be repeated in New York. Guilliani was still a bad dream scheming to be realized. Those were the gloriously dicey child-free days in Manhattan in neighborhoods like the lower east side where Republicans never, ever ventured and a tour bus was, upon closer inspection, a police trailer. Okay, a turn around a dark corner could bring you face to face with a mugger but it could also mean hearing the likes of Pedro Pietri and Jim Carroll at poetry readings held in abandoned gas stations where the non-existent alcohol license was circumvented when you were instructed to ask for your juice con or sin gas. The police had other, not necessarily better, things to do than bust you for smoking a doobie on the street. You had street smarts and negotiated those stroller-free streets with aplomb. There were no cell phones.
So, back in the south end of Central Park we blithely handed over some money to the man for a joint. We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, chalking it up to experience, we were about to go when the apologetic man showed up. Indeed, he had the joint but he also had a fistful of wild flowers he had picked for us, for our anniversary.
Eventually, The Mister and I settled on a regular foray out to Montauk on Long Island for a few days each year at anniversary time. We don’t do well under pressure and preferred the slow pre-season atmosphere of this little fishing village. Our hotel was on the beach and very private. The anniversary meal was celebrated at The Shagwong—my Martini glass raised to his filled with a Manhattan and toasting our marriage.
Honestly, we can neither of us even recall every anniversary but one of the most memorable is still the year we celebrated our eighth in Paris where we met originally and started the mirror ball marriage spinning. Friends came from England to celebrate with us at a party our friend Rauda hosted in her lovely art-filled apartment within cri-ing distance of the Eiffel Tower. We met new friends and brought old friends together who had been estranged for some time. Later, we wrapped up the splendid evening at a midnight show of the newly released American film Donnie Brasco. Like Lefty said to Donnie, I tell The Mister, “I die wich you.”
Last year we decided to spend the night in the Chelsea Hotel. A New York landmark, we heard rumors of its going the Disneyfied way of the rest of the city and before it was transformed into a high-end condo or worse, a Whole Foods, we thought we should have the Leonard Cohen experience. And indeed, we booked the very room where Janis Joplin “inspired” Leonard Cohen to write that song. The neon hotel sign glowed outside our window, flooding the room in a bloody claret-colored glow all night. Our dear friend whom we call Fairy Godfather joined us for dinner at the Spanish restaurant next door to the hotel and in order to shed the unpredicted chaos at a wildly popular restaurant—Mother’s Day, who knew—we raced off to dance the night away at Splash.
This year kind of crept up on us. Realizing quite late in the game that it was our twentieth anniversary and upon Googling that we saw it was some kind of milestone—albeit china or platinum—we panicked a bit. Like I said, we don’t do well under pressure. It had to be good, we thought. So, we racked our brains and cast about for ideas worthy of the event. Montauk was immediately dismissed because the hotel was fully booked—Mother’s Day week again. Desperate we looked up menus at rated restaurants and trembled at the prices of unknown gastronomic territories until we agreed on one a friend highly rated, which turned out to be closed on Mondays.
Finally, the Mister mused, “Well, what did we do on our wedding day?” Suddenly it all seemed so simple. The more panicky elements of our wedding day were happily relegated to the past, like the frantic search by the dry cleaners for my dress which didn’t arrive until moments before we had to leave; my staggeringly old cat Eliot who’d made the cross-country trip to freedom from my first marriage leapt from a window the night before The Mister and I were to be married. She was found in the courtyard below clutching a bird. Or a friend—now former friend—calling only in my best interest to tell me he'd had a terrible nightmare the night before and that if I married The Mister my life would be ruined. My oldest friend Mary grudgingly agreed to make the long trip in from New Jersey to witness for us at the last minute and replace another friend who had taken ill the night before. She had not yet met The Mister. "If I don't like him I'm not going ahead with it." Agreed, but all it took was a few moments before the ceremony and she was smitten. And the list goes on but why spoil the moment?