Friday, March 26, 2010

In which I get stressed out because the relationship is moving way too fast and because it's just hitting me that I am unemployed

January 2006 My last day of work was December 30. I have gotten my severance package, which was quite generous: two weeks' pay for every year I worked at the company plus full 2005 bonus, which, as it turns out, active employees do not get at bonus time three months later because the 2005 results were so crummy. I have some cash. I have savings. I am not going to file for unemployment because I have savings and I don't want to take a handout. Plus it's only $200 a week, you have to pay taxes on it and you have to go to the unemployment office every week and ewww. Springfield unemployment office. No thank you.

Primo left my house a few days after Christmas. Then he flew me to Sam and Nadine's for their big annual New Year's Eve party. Primo is buying a car from Sam. The plan is that he and I will drive the car back to Fairview and I will spend ten days with him.

I am nervous about this. We have never spent this much time together. What if I don't like him after all and am stuck in his apartment until my departure date?

The party is fun. Primo would want me to talk about the Stabbin' Cabin, but I think that's tacky. I will tell you, however, that he and Sam go through a ritual that they do every time they are together.

They weigh themselves.


Primo was a scrawny thing in college. Part of it was that he went to college when he was 16, so he was a few years behind everyone else in growing. Another is that he was just skinny. Skinny, bad skin, brillo hair. Fortunately, those days are behind him and he is a total hottie now, but I probably would not have paid much attention to him when we were in college.

Not that I was the belle of the ball. I was more than a little plump. Bad skin. Well, occasional bad skin. (But it was bad 18 year old skin and occasionally bad 18 year old skin is still better than great 46 year old skin any day.) My hair was always a mess. Here's a fashion tip: don't let your roommates bleach your hair. I didn't have a clue about makeup or clothes. Another fashion tip: beige does not look good on blondes.

OK, some things haven't changed. My sister does my makeup and hair every time she sees me. She always sighs, rolls her eyes, and tells me that I am the hair and makeup equivalent of the fat person who downs two liters of Coke and five bags of potato chips daily. "You just need to do the obvious things," she scolds me. But I don't want Primo to get used to seeing me look too nice. I don't want to set the bar high and then have to do all that work all the time.

Back to Primo and Sam. Primo was skinny skinny and Sam was, in his own words, a bread truck.

Since then, fate has caught up with Primo. He can't eat everything he wants without it affecting him, not even the Dill Pickle Pringles that he hides from himself in the basement so that when he wants some, he at least has to climb down two flights of stairs from his office.

And Sam doesn't eat or drink as much as he did. He makes a real effort to keep the weight off. He was the beer rep on campus (do they even have those any more?) and did a lot of quality control on the product.

So they go into the bathroom and weigh themselves. Primo weighs more than Sam for the first time in his life. He is happy. Nadine and I think the guys are nuts.

We leave Sam and Nadine's and drive the 12 hours back to Fairview. OK, some other stuff happens - we were supposed to visit Mark and Sue but their kids are sick, we stay the night with my friends who live about 100 miles from Fairview and they talk wine with Primo so they are cool with him. We sleep on the six-sided star flannel sheets that my friend's husband dislikes because they are so wrong. I guess sheet designers don't take a lot of science.

We get back to Fairview. I am mostly enjoying myself. I have free time for the first time in a really long time. I have access to a TV and cable for the first time in a really long time. (I do not have a TV in Springfield and have not had one since before I went into the Peace Corps.) I get to sleep past 5:00 a.m. because I am no longer attending a 5:30 a.m. exercise class before work. (Oh yes I did this.) We are planning a trip to Morocco the next month.

Life is good.

Then Primo takes me for a tour of Fairview. And of the neighborhoods where he thinks I might like to live. As in, get married, buy a house and live for the rest of my life. As in sell my house in Springfield, pack all my stuff, leave my friends of eight years, and move. Move.

I have lived in Springfield for eight years. It is the longest I have ever lived in one city my entire life. I have been in my house for almost four years. That is the longest I have lived in the same dwelling my entire life. I am finally in a place where every time I go to the grocery store, I see someone I know. Where I know my way around town. Where I have roots.

And Primo wants me to leave all that.

And OMIGOSH I DON'T HAVE A JOB! I am unemployed. The last time I was unemployed - after I finished my two-year stint in the Peace Corps, it took me a year and a half to find a job.

I feel sick to my stomach. I can't breathe. I start to cry. Well, if I am crying, I guess I can breathe. But I am panicking. Panicking. What if I don't want to be with Primo? How can he be so sure that he loves me (but doesn't know if he wants to marry me) after such a short time? What if nobody ever hires me again? I will die homeless, a bag lady pushing her pathetic little cart on the street, wearing unflattering clothes and a bad hairstyle, just like I always knew would happen.

Primo doesn't know what to do. So he takes me for frozen custard. Which makes me feel better for a little while. But only for a little while.

In which Primo has a hissy fit over a broken vase and I realize that he was raised in a truly dysfunctional home

2006 sometime. I don't remember the date. Primo is still in his Fairview apartment with the crazy laundry people upstairs. We are going somewhere. We are in a hurry to leave the apartment. One of us - I can't remember but if I ask Primo, he will remember because he is The Rememberer - opens the freezer.

A vase that was sitting on top of the fridge crashes to the ground. It had been in the back but must have gradually worked its way forward.

I go to get the vacuum cleaner. I do this without more than an, "Uh-oh!"


Freaks out. I mean, total Drama. He says, "Oh no! Oh no!" He is very, very upset.

"Relax!" I say. "It's just a cheap vase from TJMaxx!"

But he is horribly upset. Horribly.

I don't understand. What's the big deal about breaking a $15 vase from a discount department store? It's not like it was a 2,000 year old Ming vase in a museum. In beer units, it was worth three domestics or two imports. It is not a big deal.

"Let's just clean this up and get out of here," I say.

Primo can't relax. I have never seen anyone react so strongly to something that I think is inconsequential.

"Just what was it like in your house when you were a kid?" I ask. "What happened if you spilled milk or something?"

Oh, he got in trouble, he tells me.

"Yeah, but what about when you were little? It's one thing to get in trouble when you're seven and your dad has been warning you to stop goofing off. It's another when you are four. Four year olds have accidents. Big deal."

Nope, he still got in trouble. Big, Sly pitching a fit trouble.

Holy smoke.

What kind of parent yells at a little kid for something the kid does accidentally? Yells at him enough that 40 years later, the kid still gets horribly stressed if he breaks something?

I would say that is a parent with very poor parenting skills.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In which Primo and my sister bid against each other on eBay for my Christmas present

Christmas 2006 We spend Christmas with Sly and Doris. We drive there from my house. Primo has taken ten days off from work and we are going to drive to see my sister after we leave Sly and Doris. Oh, what a joy that is - to be there with our own car so that there could be flexibility in our schedule. I am so worried that they will guilt Primo into staying an extra day. Fortunately, Primo has no more interest in staying there longer than I do, even though we are having such a good time cleaning out the garage and repairing the torn porch screen, so we leave on time.

While we are at his mom and dad's house, Primo checks his computer a lot. I don't think anything is out of the ordinary because even though he is "on vacation," he is still working. He has one of those jobs where the work doesn't go away just because he is not there.

His dad doesn't understand that. If Sly had someone cover for him, he didn't have to go back later and teach the class himself. Plus he didn't do any research - he just taught. Tenured, unionized, no research. Summers off. Sweet deal.

But Primo's work keeps accumulating. You gotta stay on top of it. So he does. Even when he is on vacation.

We leave Sly and Doris and drive to my sister's place a day away. We have gifts for her. She has presents for us. Actually, she has a small box for me. I open it - it reads, Your Crandall Toasted Almond Brahmin bag will arrive in a few days.


I have been watching these purses on eBay for months, but they always get too expensive. Yes, yes, yes. I know I am unemployed and shouldn't be spending my money on something frivolous like a new purse, but my old purse, the one I took to Morocco to have repaired because I could not find a single leatherworker in Springfield who could repair it and that I love as much as any woman can love a purse (black snakeskin, Talbot's), is used up. It is time for it to go to that purse heaven in the sky where all the leather items get to stand together and not have to look at vinyl masquerading as something nice.

When I realize what my sister has gotten for me, I gasp. "But that's so much money!"

She shrugs. "I got a nice bonus this year."

Primo snatches the note from me. "Where did you get this purse?" he asks.

"I got it on eBay," she says.

He turns to me, accusing. "How did she know you wanted this purse?"

"I told her," I tell him.

"But you told me, too!" he says.

"So what?"

"I wanted to get you this purse! You shouldn't have told both of us you wanted it."

I tell him that I had no idea that either he or my sister would get me something so expensive, although considering he got me diamond earrings, a pearl necklace and earrings and a jade necklace for our first Christmas together after knowing each other for only two months, I should not be surprised. Except I had ordered him not to spend so much money this year. He just will not take orders from me.

He looks at the note again. "When did you buy this?" he asks.

She gives him the details.

"But that's when I was bidding for this purse."

She asks, "What's your eBay name?"

He tells her.

"You were bidding against me!" she says. "I'm nene214! You ran me up $35!"

They both turn to me, glaring, hands on their hips.

"I didn't know," I say.

"You owe me $35," my sister tells Primo. "Or at least a drink."

In which I get an engagement trash can

We have decided to get married. When is this - summer 2007? Oh sure Primo has been in loooove with me for a long time and I am crazy about him, but we are both a little skittish about this marriage thing, he because he did not have a good experience with Isabel and me just because I have dodged some bullets already.

I am not unmarried because nobody has ever proposed to me. Oh no. I am unmarried in my early 40s because I treasure my independence. I like living alone. I don't like compromise. Several boyfriends in my past have wanted to marry me. Several, I tell you. But fie, fie with them.

Primo is the first I have wanted to marry.* He does have his weirdness, but he doesn't do things like leave all the cupboard doors open so the cockroaches won't have a place to hide. Or mash the little ends of soap in the corner of the bathtub.

Everyone does odd things and I have my own weirdnesses - I always keep a safety pin around so I can get gunk out of my teeth because one of my paranoias is that I have something stuck in my teeth but it's really not paranoia because I have very stuff-prone teeth so often, there is something there - but maybe true love is when you find someone whose weirdness you can live with. The boyfriend with the cupboard/soap thing was wonderful in many ways, but I just couldn't take all that gray slimy soap in the corner.

But Primo - well, he's different. My life is better with him than without him. I miss him too much when he's gone. So OK - I'll marry him.

We start talking about rings. Primo sort of wants to buy me a ring.

I don't wear rings. I wish I'd known that before I spent $200 on my college class ring, which has not seen my hands since 1987. I could have paid my rent with that money.

I don't like them. My hands aren't that nice. I have icky nails, unlike my mom and my sister, both of whom seem to be able to extrude ceramic from their fingers. Rings get in the way. I do too many things involving my hands to want a ring. You can't wear a ring when you garden. When you work with weights. When you do housework.

I don't want it. I especially don't want Primo to spend thousands of dollars on a ring. "We could go to Paris for that money," I tell him. "Or put it toward our mortgage." I'd rather have a grand trip to Paris to look back on than a ring any day.

He's frustrated. He wants to do something.

"Get me a decent trash can," I tell him.

I hate the trash can in his kitchen. It's only about 14" high and you have to push the lid with your hand to open it. I hate bending over to open it or lifting my leg 16" to mash the opener with my foot. I hate bending over to peel onions into it. I hate the little bags it holds. I hate it.

"I want the fancy trash can like Leigh** has," I say.

Leigh has the nice, tall, chrome, foot-operated trash can. It doesn't break your back to peel onions. You just step with your foot to open it.

But it's not cheap.

OK, it's about $60. But it's a trash can.

I try to put that into beer units for Primo so he can relate. He and I have different ideas about how much to spend on everyday items. I think it's worth it to spend a little more to get higher quality in something you will use every day. He is more of the "buy cheap" school (except for car accessories and wine, but even his cars have all been used - he is not a spendthrift). I tell him buy nice or buy twice.

He wants to wait until he can find the trash can on sale. That's fair. I don't see the point of paying more than we have to.

But it doesn't go on sale and doesn't go on sale and doesn't go on sale. We know this because Primo scours the ads in the paper every Sunday. He will even find a lower price on something he already bought and go to the store to get the adjustment. Target does that, you know. Primo is not wasteful with money.

After nine months of watching, though, the darn trash can never goes on sale. By now, I have sold my house and moved into Primo's apartment, so his trash can has become a real issue.

One evening, he comes home with a big box. It contains the trash can. "I got it for you," he says. "And it wasn't even on sale."

I know he loves me.

* Except for the jerk in grad school, but I just thought I wanted to marry him. Then I learned he was a total creep who thought the rules didn't apply to him. I will have to tell you that story. Let's just say for now that he might actually be a psychopath. Not a murderer, but someone without a conscience.

** Leigh is the friend whose presents got peed on at her bridal shower by the hostess' neurotic, yappy dogs. The hostess was a psychologist. The dogs peed on Leigh's presents. The hostess still did not put the dogs out. Psychologist heal thyself is what I said.

In which Primo gets out of ever having to do anything for Valentine's Day again

Summer 2006 Primo and I have been out of town. We return to my house in Springfield. The battery in my car is dead. But that's OK. I can take Primo's car to my exercise class the next morning and then take care of getting a new battery later.

Yes. Even though I am unemployed, I still pay to go to boot camp three days a week. I am too lazy to exercise on my own and I need someone to boss me around. Plus it is one of the few social contacts I have. I am not really a people person, but I am also not a Unabomber isolationist. I like being around people in small doses. Finally, I spend my days 13 miles closer to my refrigerator than I did when I was working. You do the math.

Back to the dead battery. Sears has some scam going there, huh? Sure, they’ll pro-rate the cost of the new battery when your Diehard battery dies before five years, but it’s getting to be a bit of a hassle buying a new battery every three years. Not to mention not knowing where your battery is going to die. Usually, it dies at the train station in Miami on your way home from work.

Or in your own driveway at 5:15 a.m. when you are getting ready to go to boot camp and then to work. You wait until 7:00 to call your boyfriend before Primo to ask him to come over and give you a jump start but he doesn't answer the phone because he is such a deep sleeper so you have to walk the mile to his place to bang on the door and he doesn't really appreciate it.

Fortunately, this time, it died at the body shop. They charged it for me, then it died again at my house, where I have Primo's car waiting. I'll just take his car, even though he is always all, Oh no! You don't drive right! Don't touch anything! Don't put down the sunshade! Don't move the seat!

I go to bed at 9:00. Primo stays up to work. When I wake up, I find a note: Primo went to Wal-Mart last night to buy a new battery and my car is now running just fine.

Two things: the nearest Wal-Mart is 20 miles away and Primo thinks Wal-Mart is the evil empire.* Bless his heart, when he compromises his principles, he benefits financially.

So he went to Wal-Mart, the store he loves to hate, and drove a long way to do so. Then he stayed up late to install the new battery. He didn’t get to bed until after midnight.

All this to put a new battery in my car.

I'd rather have this than roses on Valentine's Day any day.

* He and Sly and Doris agree on that. Evil Wal-Mart! Horrible, union-busting Wal-Mart! Yet they all shop there. Sly and Doris hate Wal-Mart with liberal passion, but won't vote with their dollars. Is this hypocrisy? Surely not.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In which I meet Primo's best friend from high school, who doesn't like me

June 2006 Primo has been talking about his friend Mark since I met him. They smoked pot and drank beer together in high school. Mark was in Primo's wedding to Isabel and had a little shall we say fling with one of the bridesmaids.

But now Primo's main activity with Mark is to argue about religion and to try to get me involved. Before Mark married Sue, he became quite religious. Now he and Sue are uber-Catholics, which is fine. I don't care. No skin off my back.

But Primo can't stand it and is always trying to convince Mark he is wrong. They have fierce email and phone debates and are always sending each other books, magazines and articles that support their respective opinions.

I. Don't. Care. Believe what you want, just leave me out of it. But Primo wants to enlist me to sway Mark because I am not a very good Catholic girl, at least not by what would be Mark's standards. Primo thinks that I can shoot down Mark's positions just because I do not adhere to them in my own life.

So we go to Mark and Sue's for the weekend. Actually, it's for the big party Mark and Sue throw every year, but whatever. I think it's just a casual visit. I don't realize it's a kick the tires, make sure I am worthy, 14-point inspection. Just a hey, how ya’ doing, casual thing.

We go. I meet Mark and Sue. I also meet Jim and Lorena. Other friends whom Primo has known for a long time. Jim and Lorena come over for supper on Friday. I am wiped out because we drove about six hours to get there. I don't know I am being inspected. I just know that we have finished supper, that Sue has said she needs to put the kids to bed but has not left the table, and that I am tired. They are eating raw salmon and talking about wine this tastes like stone leather fruitiness hints of rosemary ratings vineyards blah blah blah. Give me a diet Coke. I am not only tired but I am a little bit bored.

So I excuse myself, help Sue with the dishes, and then retire upstairs to our room. The room that Primo had told Mark that if Mark wanted us to visit, he would let us share. Primo refused to not share a room with me even though we weren't married so Mark could decide if he wanted to see us or not. I have some sympathy for Mark, seeing as it's his house and we're going to be around his children whom he is trying to raise with certain values, but I am not going to get involved in this.

I go into the bathroom and see Primo's travel kit hanging on the wall from the nail that Mark tried to remove once but his little boy said, "No! That's where Uncle Primo hangs his shaving kit."

Then I go to bed because I am tired.

I do not know I am supposed to stay up all night talking to people I just met. There is only so much an introvert like me can take with new people who have all known each other for years.

On Sunday, when we are driving back to my house 500 miles away, Primo mentions something casually about how Friday’s supper with Jim and Lorena had been just for my benefit. I am not really paying attention – I am trying to figure out which state has produced the most presidents. (Is it Ohio? Does anyone know? I do wish Primo had a wireless internet connection in his car.) His comment almost slips past me. “What do you mean, for my benefit?” I ask.

“Mark and Sue really needed to get the kids to bed and get ready for the party, but Jim and Lorena wanted to meet you,” he says.

“Why?” I ask. I had never heard of Jim and Lorena before the weekend, so had assumed they had never heard of me.

But this is not the case. Jim had also been in Mark's wedding along with Primo and, as it turns out, is a good friend of Primo's. They, along with a few others, had been hearing about me. Primo has never taken a chick to this party before in all the years he has been attending. Everyone was quite curious. Who was I?

I had no idea of the buzz I had created.

“Well, did I pass?” I ask. If I had known I was being tested, I might have stuck around for the after-supper conversation. SH could have warned me to act like someone nice and hospitable instead of myself.

He assures me I did indeed pass, but later, I find out that Mark doesn't really like me. There are several reasons. One of them is that I write a blog post in which I say that kids should be potty trained by the age of four. Mark takes issue with that, argues with me online, and then stops reading my blog.

Another is that I did not socialize enough. I didn't stay up all night to talk.

The last reason is I am not Catholic enough. Perhaps he thought I would set Primo on a straighter path.

In the meantime, Sly and Doris dislike me because I am too religious.

In which I discover that Primo might be a bit of a hoarder

One afternoon early in our dating relationship, as I am stuck at Primo's apartment visiting him and he is working and there is nothing good on TV like "Bridezillas" or "What Not To Wear," I decide to count his shirts. His blue shirts. I have been asking for closet space because his huge closet is jammed full of clothes. Clothes that he doesn't use so much because when he is working from home, he wears sweatpants and a t-shirt. Or just stays in his robe. Oh like you wouldn't. It's noon right now and I am still in my PJs, but I have worked on our taxes and done two loads of laundry. Standards slip when there is nobody to see.

I count. Eighty-five blue shirts. Eighty-five. I calculate that he could go three months without washing a shirt. And that's if he wanted to wear only the blue ones. He could go another month if he would wear other colors.

I accuse him of holding on to crap and he denies it. The things he keeps are important, he tells me.

But when we are getting ready to move out of his apartment and into the house two years later, he is forced to sort through some of the many boxes he brought with him from Y, the place 1,000 miles away where he lived with Isabel.

Boxes of things like his textbooks from college. Including his freshman year. I guess he didn't need to sell his books each semester so he would have money to buy the ones he needed the next semester. Primo's parents paid his tuition. Mine couldn't afford it. Maybe that's why I'm a little tight with my cash now. I had to work hard to pay for college, including working 60 hours a week in the summer and then part-time during school.

Not that I am the only person who has ever had to do that. I am not trying to be all woe is me or anything. And not like it was that hard. But wow how great would it have been to graduate without any debt? Or even to have had more time to goof off during the school year? Not that I didn't goof off. I just took my goofing-off time from study time instead of work time. How about, to have had more time to study? My priorities were not where they should have been in college.

Anyhow. Back to Primo's hoarding. We are class of 1985. If he really needs to know something about calculus or physics that he has forgotten since then, can't he just go to the google?

He has boxes of old notes from college, including some test scores he got from the other physics graders. (Primo was the head physics grader.) I recognize the handwriting on one of the notes and realize that it is from R.M., my college boyfriend and later fiancé. R.M. was a physics grader as well and he worked for Primo. How odd is that? Except we went to a very small college, so I guess it's not that surprising that Primo's and R.M.'s paths would have crossed that way, especially when they had the same major (electrical engineering).

He has phone bills from 1997. Claudia's college tuition receipts. The HR manual from the company where he worked in 1992.

I love Primo and he is mostly wonderful, but he and I disagree on what to keep and what to discard. Primo comes by his problem honestly, though. Sly and Doris do not have a surface of their house except the ceiling that is not covered with crap. You can barely open the closet in the guest room because it is stuffed with old clothes. On one trip, I found a bag full of old newspapers in the closet. Newspapers from the place they had lived before they moved. I looked and then checked with Primo to make sure I wasn't missing anything - that the papers were not anything special. Nope. They were just ordinary newspapers that they had paid to move 900 miles.

They have another bedroom that is so jammed full of stuff that the door can barely be opened. The garage is full of junk - cluttered junk. Primo and I organize the garage every time we visit, but our work does not last.

I am dreading cleaning out their house when they either die or move. There is so much furniture, totchkes, books and clutter in there. I would be perfectly OK with just calling Salvation Army and telling them to take it all, but I suspect that method will not be acceptable to Primo and his brothers. Primo and I have already agreed that nothing from his parents' house will be transferred to our house. Nothing.

Fortunately, the tendency to hoard is the only bad habit Primo has picked up from his parents. He does not yell at me until I cry or get drunk every night, so perhaps a few extra boxes in the basement isn't so bad.

Occasionally, he does move the boxes, but actually throwing things away is out of scope, as he tells me.

Primo: I moved those boxes so the plumber can get to the [whatever to TV the lines to see why our basement flooded in June and soaked our carpet when our neighbors' basements did not flood].

Me: Thanks, sweetie. Your one weekend chore is done. Relax.

Primo: Guess what I found in some of the boxes? Calendars from 1990!

Me: What did you do with them?

Primo: Left them in the box.

Me: Why didn't you throw them away?

Primo: Because then I would have had to go through the entire box and sort it out and I didn't have time for that project.

Me: No you wouldn't. You could have just thrown away the calendars and been done. Sheesh.

Primo: Nope. Besides, throwing things away was not in the scope of this chore.

I tell him that if his plane crashes, the first thing I do after getting rid of the cats will be to throw away all his basement boxes without even opening them. If they can go six or seven years without being opened, then there is nothing important in them.

He still has most of his blue shirts. When we were visiting Henry and Norah in Morocco, I was looking at photos with their little boy, Michael. Michael pointed to a photo of a man on a camel and asked if that was Primo. "I don't think so," I told him.

"Doesn't Primo have a blue shirt [like the man in the photo]?" Michael asked.

"Yes he does, Michael," I answered. "Yes he does."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In which Primo meets my mom and my licking cousin

August 2006 I take Primo to the big fish fry my aunt and uncle throw every year at their lake place. Don't be thinking this is all fancy: they have what is basically a huge garage up there. My eight cousins, their kids (I have a total of 26 cousins, I think), have trailer homes they keep on the lot. Not fancy. But if you're on the lake, who cares?

This year the fish fry is also doubling as a family reunion. Might as well throw Primo into the fire, right?

My mom, naturally, looooooves Primo. She seeks him as soon as she sees me arrive, walking up to us, saying, "You must be Primo!" grabbing his arm and taking him away from me.

Primo meets my many aunts and uncles and cousins and we are having fun. My best cousin, Angie, who is only nine days older than I am but about to become a grandmother so don't I feel old, likes him.

We eat a ton. Fried fish, "salads" (in my country, there is a dish consisting of apples, whipped cream and sliced Snickers bars that is called a salad and for which the recipe is found in the "Salad" section of the church cookbook), rolls and dessert. (Also in my country, the dessert section of the church cookbook is bigger than all the other sections combined.)

There is also beer. Almost everyone drinks. I don't because I don't think beer tastes that good, but beer? It's what for breakfast. And for minors, too, although nobody seems too concerned. The teenagers aren't driving. If they throw up or feel like crap the next morning from their drinking experience, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Late in the evening, after much drinking but before Angie and some of my other cousins and Primo and I decamp to a bar to play pool,* my cousin Pat stops to talk to us. My mom, my sister, my sister's boyfriend, Angie, Primo and I are sitting talking. Pat appears, beer in one hand, cigarette in the other. She has something to say.

Pat: I’m going to tell you something that no one ever told me.

Jenny: What’s that?

Pat: You don’t have to marry someone to [sleep with but the other word if you know what I mean] him.

Me [embarrassed laughter – she said this in front of my mother. For crying out loud]: Is that why you’ve been married four times? You’ve been doing it like they do in Hollywood – getting married instead of dating?

Pat: Yep. I didn’t know. I didn’t you could just [sleep with] ‘em instead of marrying ‘em.

Then she licks Primo on the cheek.

Which stuns me into silence.

Because I have never 1. seen someone lick another person like that and 2. she licked my boyfriend. In front of me.

I am mortified. I am thinking that Primo is going to be so horrified by my crazy family that he will never want to see me again.

Fortunately, I meet his parents in two months and discover that I am not the only one with crazy people in my family. Although in Sly and Doris' defense, they never do lick me. They do, however, swear like if not drunken then at least sober sailors. As in, they say things I have never heard my mom say and never heard my dad say.

But I don't feel so bad about Pat.

I also never let her near Primo again.

* Which I later learn is the shock of the century because they have always thought I am a goody two shoes for not going to bars with them, but it's more of a "lots of cigarette smoke gives me a migraine" thing, but who knew? People aren't always what they seem and their reasons for doing or not doing something are not necessarily what you think.

In which Primo slays a dragon for me

Spring 2006 In February, Primo and I go to Morocco to visit my friends Henry and Norah. While we are there, I have a stress attack about Not Having a Job and Not Even Really Looking and Omigod What If Nobody Ever Hires Me Again. It doesn't matter that at Christmas, Primo told me he was in love with me and was Very, Very Serious.

I don't know if I am Serious plus I don't want my decision to be based on being unemployed and needing someone to support me. So I still need a job and then I can decide if I want to be with Primo. Make sense? It made sense to me at the time.

A month or two later, I decide that not only do I need a job but I need Primo to stay away for a while so I can see if I miss him. Primo thinks this is totally stupid and says so, but I tell him that I do not want to see him, talk to him, or email him. For a month. Now he's really mad.

But fine he'll abide by my stupid, stupid wishes.

A week or two into his exile, both my washer and dryer break. On the same day. I figure out what's wrong (broken belt for the dryer, some $16 doohicky that needs to be replaced on the washer), order the parts, and then blog about my drama.

Next thing I know, I have an email from Primo. He has found a cheap flight from an airport 90 miles from Fairvew to my city, which shall henceforth be known as Springfield. He will drive there the next morning for a 9:00 a.m. flight (a real sacrifice for Primo to be up that early on a Saturday), rent a car, and come to my house to repair the machines. If I do not want him to come, I need to call by 8:00 a.m.

Wow. I have had men make some grand gestures before, but this one takes the cake. A guy I was seeing in Albuquerque when I would go on business trips there once said goodbye to me at the hotel and then sped to the airport to get there before me so he could give me a rose. Very nice.

And another boyfriend, the one before Primo, noticed that I was almost out of milk and some other supplies so went to the store while I was at work and filled my fridge and bought me flowers. OK, it was after his first sleepover. I had to go to work, but he didn't, so I didn't get him up before I left. Yes. Easy. Wait. I mean, not easy. You don't know how long I was dating him before he slept over. My mother can never read this.

Never mind.

But to fly to my house just to repair my major appliances? When it's something I could do myself? In theory?

I am very impressed.

So I don't call. I don't even call to tell him yes, come. I do, however, go to Sears to get the part rather than waiting for the one to arrive through the mail.

The next morning, my doorbell rings. It's Primo. He looks nervous. Did he do the right thing? I told him to stay away for a month. I didn't call and tell him to come fix my machines. He's nervous, but he came anyhow and oh if there is anything women like better than a man taking a chance for her, I don't know what.

I smile, open the door, and kiss him.

Then I put him to work.

And it's a good thing he came because it turns out to be a two-person job. But we make the repairs and everything is working again and I realize that I have been very stupid to tell Primo to stay away. So I never do it again. But he breaks up with me a year later and that lasts a lot longer than a week. (Don't worry. We make up.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

In which Primo and I get into a huge fight because of the crazy laundry neighbors

Spring 2008 I have sold my house and car. (Primo has three, yes three, cars and does not think a 1992 paid-for Toyota is worth keeping.) We put my stuff into storage in Primo's city and I am living with him in his apartment while we (=I) look for a house. We plan to be out of the apartment within a month or two, so Primo does not say anything to his apartment management about my presence.

We still have the crazy laundry people upstairs. They live directly above Primo and do two loads of laundry every single day. One load at 8:00 a.m., another at 4:00 p.m. You can almost set your watch by them. They also do something at 6:00 a.m. - sweeping the carpet? walking on the treadmill? Whatever it is, we hear it.

When they first moved in, they did laundry at 5:30 a.m. You can hear their washing machine in Primo's apartment. Primo, a night owl, did not appreciate being woken after only an hour or two of sleep. He called the apartment management, who informed the upstairs couple that quiet hours are between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.

The crazy laundry people comply with the rules. They wait until 8:00 a.m. to start the washer. 8:00 exactly.

They are retired. What are they washing? Maybe they're incontinent. But that's what Depends are for.

Primo is tired of being woken every morning at 8:00. We hatch a plan to ask them nicely to wait until a little bit later, at least on weekends. He is going to explain that he often works late, that he has conference calls to India at midnight, that he would really like a little more sleep.

He is going to accompany the request with a plateful of hot out of the oven chocolate chocolate chip cookies. With Ghirardelli chocolate chips. The Good Chocolate.

We make the cookies. He takes them upstairs. Knocks on the door. Explains he lives downstairs and would they wait until later for the laund-

"We talked to the manager. Quiet hours are only until 8:00 a.m.," crazy laundry person #1 snaps.

"But so much laundry!" Primo protests.

"You have to stay on top of it!"

Then crazy laundry person #1 then tells Primo that they are tired of all the noise we make. You know, opening and closing the patio door, making our late (8:00 p.m.) suppers. "This is Fairview [I have given Primo's city a pseudonym]," crazy laundry person tells Primo. "This is not New York City! People here get up early."

Then crazy laundry person slams the door. And keeps the cookies.

We are astonished. Two retired people, 14 loads of laundry a week. And they are bothered by our opening the patio door? Plus we totally don't get the New York City reference. Does the crazy laundry person think that it's quiet in New York City? That people in New York sleep late? What's up with that?

After that, it's war. I make a point of opening and closing the patio door in the evening. One night, when we know that the next-door neighbors are gone and won't be bothered, we play records super loud.

One day Primo is on a business trip. The crazy laundry people have been particularly annoying. I crank up the stereo in Primo's bedroom so it will bother them, then knock on the next-door neighbor's door. "Is that music too loud for you?" I ask. He tells me no. Good. I go to the gym.

When I return, the next-door guy pounds on my door. "Turn it down!" he tells me. I apologize, thinking that I had asked him if it was too loud.

Then I get a call from Primo. He is livid. The next-door guy had tried knocking while I was gone and had gotten no answer. Then he called. Primo gets the call. He is super mad at me for my little stunt.

Then Primo gets a letter from the manager saying that someone has reported that Primo has someone living with him.

Oh great. The neighbor is a stoolie. This is life in a police state.

I am panicked. What if they kick me out? I have nowhere to go. I feel sick. Primo is beyond furious.

"How could you do that?" he asks. "I live here!"

Well, remember that we did it before? Played loud music?

But yes. It is a juvenile stunt, but honestly, they won't stop making noise so why should I?

I later run into the next-door neighbor with his wife. I apologize again and tell them that I know it makes me sound really bad, but I did it to bother the upstairs people. The wife nods and says, "They're nuts! I've seen them sweeping their parking space!" The husband starts telling me about their upstairs neighbor, who watches TV late into the night. Then I make some apology brownies for the next-door people.

Primo is still mad. I want him to get over it. I've apologized to the next-door people. I don't care about the upstairs, two load a day neighbors and continue to open and close the patio door. Oh, the horror!

He is better once he talks to the apartment management and discovers that all he needs to do is send them a letter telling them I am staying.

He is even better when he learns that the apartment people will not let him go month to month on the lease while we look for a house and that we must give not one but two months' notice to move out. After living there for five years, he thinks he deserves a little more consideration. But now we are really pressured to find a house and move out and the management is not helpful. He is not so worried about keeping the apartment management happy after that.

In which I hear Primo sing for the first time and am worried I will have to pretend that he is good

December 2005 Primo has flown me up to his place. I guess we like each other. He makes me a supper of steak and vegetables on the grill. In the snow. He is a crazy man. He thinks it's not cold. He is wrong.

He wants to take me out to a karaoke place to hear him sing. He has been telling me about this passion for a while - that he just learned a few years ago that he loves to sing and is good at it. I am doubtful. He is an engineer, for pete's sake, not an entertainer. How can he be any good?

He discovered this talent and hobby after he left Isabel and went on a solo trip to New Orleans. He was persuaded to try singing at a karaoke bar. Yes. Alcohol was involved. Primo had some wild (for him) times after he left Isabel. He married at 24 and became responsible very young, so I guess he saw this as a chance to have his youth all over again. Or his youth without the bad skin and with some confidence. Wouldn't we all like to return to high school knowing what we know now? Return to our old bodies, skin and hair but with our wisdom, such as it is?

So he takes me to this bar. It is simple place - mismatched tables and chairs, no fancy decoration, just some neon beer signs. One side of the building is the bar, the other side is where they have the Friday fish fry. Lots and lots of cigarette smoke. I hate stale indoor cigarette smoke (but will stop outside to take a deep breath of fresh cigarette smoke, even if I am running), but I will suffer for Primo. At least, I will suffer for him at the beginning of the relationship. Later, not so much.

He signs up to sing. The six singers before Primo are awful. Bless their hearts. I am thinking Omigosh Primo's going to sing like these guys and I'm going to have to lie and say he's good.

Then Primo is called to the mike.

He starts to sing "Easy."

Oh man.

He can sing. He is really good. He's even hitting the high notes. Who knew?

People stop talking to listen to him. A few people come by my table to tell me that Primo wins. One woman says that my husband is a fabulous singer. I tell her that he's not my husband, but thanks.

When he returns to the table, I am smiling. Happy that he has this talent because I have a thing for musicians. And relieved. Relieved that I do not have to lie because I am bad, very unconvincing liar.

In which Primo and I have the Gateway Nap and we confirm that I am indeed easy

November or December 2005 I'm too lazy to find an old calendar to determine the correct date. Primo, however, would know this off the top of his head. He is a bit savanty that way.

We had our second, first kiss date. That was on Monday. Primo goes home, then decides he can't wait to see me again. So he returns on Thursday. I have to "work," so I pick him up, drop him off at my house, and go to my cubicle that used to be an eighth-floor window office until my boss with no backbone let someone take our office space and covered parking and moved our entire team of nine to the converted warehouse ten miles away in the neighborhood where there were regular carjackings at gunpoint. But I'm not bitter about that. Not at all. I don't remember that as if it were yesterday.

I leave work early and go home. Primo has been working from my house. He has already ordered the supplies to set up wireless internet so it will be easier for him on future visits. He has also walked to the flower store a few blocks from my house and bought me some tulips, which, along with stargazer lilies, are my favorites.

Primo has already told me the part about how he is still married, which does not please me, but I understand why Isabel wouldn't want to pay for her own health insurance (really, who does? I don't like paying for mine when my layoff company-paid COBRA runs out after six months and I have to get my own policy with a $5,000 deductible, but I pay for that before I buy a new house, re-do the bathroom, and buy all new furniture) and it seems like a logical, although way too nice reason, not to be divorced. Plus Primo has been waiting for Isabel to be "ready" to get divorced. That will never happen. She is never ready.

Anyhow, I have told Primo that there will be no s-e-x until he is not m-a-r-r-i-e-d. I might be a fornicator, but I am not an adulteress. Although technically, Primo would be the one commiting adultery, not I. Still, early to bed can be death to a relationship, or so I've heard, and I am going to stick to my guns on this one. Really.

I have made up the guest room for him. He will be perfectly comfortable there.

He sleeps in the guest room Thursday night.

Friday, I don't go to work. We are both sleepy from staying up late on Thursday. One of us suggests taking a nap. Probably Primo. He is sneaky that way. The thin edge of the wedge and all that.

Well, we might as well nap together.

But in the guest bed, I insist. He is not coming into my bed. I mean it. Men don't marry women who sleep with them too early.* Cow, milk, free, etc.

So we nap. Really. Well, as much as you can nap when you are next to a hottie.

But that night, after we go out to supper and he has plied me with wine (he now accuses me of having faked liking wine and tricking him, which may be a little bit true - that supper might be one of the last times I drank with him), we decide that he might as well sleep in my bed with me.

"But platonically!" I tell him.

I am also thinking, Well, heck. I should have done this from the outset because then I wouldn't have had to wash the guest bed sheets. He tells me now he never had any intention of sleeping in the guest bed more than once.

We pass a couple of platonic nights. It's not so hard to be platonic when one of you (me) is encased from head to toe in flannel pajamas. My house is a 1922 bungalow designed to keep in the cool during the summer, not the heat during the winter, so I have to dress warmly or pay a $400 heating bill, which is what happened my first winter month in the house.

But Primo is a really good kisser. And it's been a while since I broke up with my last boyfriend. (Gomez the Moroccan millionaire does not count.)

Let's just say that my resolve crumbles and I lose all my negotiating leverage regarding the divorce, which was probably not the best long-term strategy for getting the alimony done** and means we probably pay more in alimony than we should have because Isabel's cancer is diagnosed right when she and Primo are getting ready to sign the decree and she uses the cancer as a way to get more money.

Yes, I am easy.

* Except I have had several boyfriends want to marry me and those relationships were not platonic, if you know what I mean.

** We cannot replace the electric stove in our current house with a gas one until we are done paying alimony.

In which Sly and Doris won't accept help from Stephanie

This is how a conversation with my sister in law usually goes. Or, at least, this section is a usual component of our conversation. The rest of the time, we talk about fun, non-Sly and Doris things.

Stephanie: I called Sly and Doris [as she does every day] to see if they needed anything. They told me that X [some small household trauma, like a loose screw] had happened. I told them I would come over and fix it. They told me no, they would just wait until Primo gets there.

Me: But you could fix it. It's not that hard.

Stephanie: I know. I told them that. But they said I was too busy and they didn't want to bother me.

Me: But Primo's not busy? It's not OK for you to drive 15 minutes but it's OK for Primo to fly 500 miles and use his limited vacation time to do their chores?

Stephanie: I also reminded them that I am unemployed and can only clean my house so many times. But they only want Primo. Drives me nuts. They won't even ask Jack [who lives 45 minutes away] to do anything. Only Primo.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In which Primo and I have our second date but it's only our first date by his count

I don't want you to have a false impression of Primo based on his not paying for lunch. We went dutch and I was annoyed, but after that, he paid for everything, including my flights to visit him, which even the Moroccan millionaire did not do. Primo is generous to a fault (I don't think it's necessary for him to send wine to Sly, for example) and has always been berry, berry good to me. At our first Christmas, which was right after we started dating, he got me diamond earrings. He does, however, continue to be maddeningly slow about getting what should be easy emails out. I speak truth to power here, people.

Thanksgiving, 2005 I have been getting up in the middle of the night to see if Primo has sent me another email from his mom and dad's house, where he has gone for Thanksgiving. This should have been a big clue that we have major differences in our sleeping patterns - that Primo did not send his emails until late, late in the night while I was already in bed, but all I could think about was that he was a major hottie who was extry smart and could write. What a seductive combination for an English major like moi.

He asks if he can see me again on his return trip. He will take an earlier flight to my city to have a longer layover if I am available. He will arrive noonish, which means I will have to take the afternoon off from work. Again. Like I care. Maybe this layoff wasn't such a bad thing. I tell him yes. Yes I said yes.

Little do I know that this is probably what plants the first seeds of dislike in Sly and Doris' mind. I have already begun to steal their Only Joy from them. Now that he is away from Isabel(but not yet divorced - oh does that turn out to be a pain in the neck) he should be spending all his free time with them. Now he is leaving their house early to see That Woman?

I have no idea that their dislike will be so strong and immediate. I have always gotten along with the families of my boyfriends. Well, the Moroccan millionaire's aunt wasn't crazy about me - she wouldn't speak English or even French around me and wouldn't look at me, but like that relationship was going anywhere?

My college boyfriend to whom I was engaged for a while but didn't marry and then five years later married one of my sophomore year roommates but the statute of limitations on dating your friend's boyfriends had already passed so that was fine had parents who were not thrilled about me, but it was more of a "If you marry her while you are both 21 then you might not get your PhD." They were probably right.

Even though I ate his mom's salad once (who knew liquids right solids left? I didn't) by mistake and another time I tried to open a crab leg and sent it flying like a tiddlywink over my shoulder, splattering butter on not only me and the silk blouse I had borrowed from the friend to whom I gave socks as a wedding gift but also on his mother, his parents were never mean to me. They were always gracious and he never gave me feedback that they had said anything negative about me. His mom did put paper towels in the guest bathroom once after I had used the good towel, but it was the only towel in their and I thought, "I'm the guest. Aren't the guest towels for me?" No, I guess the guest towels were purely decorative and I should have wiped my hands on my pants.

Other families really liked me. College boyfriend's parents were nice, but just didn't want him to marry so young. Other boyfriend families thought I was great - one boyfriend's brother and sister in law even told him he wasn't allowed to visit unless he brought me.

So. I had no idea that a boyfriend's family could be so hostile. I was walking into the lions' den expecting kittens. Ha.

Back to our date. I pick Primo up at the airport again. We go for lunch and this time he pays. Then he wants to look in this wine store we passed on the way to lunch. Another obsession revealing itself but fine. As we walk inside, I tell him that my hands are cold and he needs to warm them. Oh yes I am soooo smooth. And again not a Rules girl. But we have this fabulous chemistry and he is doing nothing. Nothing!

So he holds my hand and I get all woozy, so when we go back outside, I tell him I think he needs to kiss me.

Primo takes certain orders very well. On most things, I am not the boss of him and I cannot get him to do what I want (throw away the crap in the basement, finish the taxes early so we can get our refund) but in this case, he complies without complaint.

His flight does not leave for two hours. I ask what he wants to do until then. "We could go to another museum," I suggest. We had gone to one after lunch on our first date that was not a date.

He does not respond enthusiastically.

"Or we could go back to my house and neck," I say.

He likes Option Two. Am I being easy?