Coulda and Shoulda Are Words We Don’t Use

THEY ONLY DEPRESS US AND GIVE US THE BLUES.

CAROL BURNETT AS EUNICE

Words to live by, chanted by Carol Burnett (well, her character Eunice) during her visit to a psychiatrist on the last episode of “The Carol Burnett Show.”

“I CHOSE AND MY WORLD WAS SHAKEN.  SO WHAT.
THE CHOICE MAY HAVE BEEN MISTAKEN. THE CHOOSING WAS NOT.”

My father used to call my mother the queen of the I SHOULDA Club and, sometimes, the queen of the IF IDA Club.  Regret is a terrible thing.  If you regret a decision and you are able — or are willing — to do something about it, then fine.  But, regretting choices you’ve made that can never (or will never) be changed is just a tremendous waste of energy.

My mother wastes a lot of energy.  She still regrets buying a new dining room set in 1964.  She hated it the minute she bought it.  She has regretted that dining room set for more than 46 years.  She refuses to replace it, but continues to comment — at every opportunity — that she never “shoulda” bought it.

I, too, waste a lot of energy.

“THERE’S ONLY NOW. THERE’S ONLY THIS.”

I spend many nights working on my attitude — while trying to fall asleep — by singing the lyrics from “Move On” (from “Sunday in the Park With George”).  When that doesn’t work quickly enough, I “move on” to “Life Support” (from “Rent”)… “Forget regret or life is yours to miss.”

I’m assuming that I get to keep my “gay card” for another year by referencing two Broadway musicals (and “The Carol Burnett Show”) in one post.

So, what am I working hard to not say “IF IDA” about?  Everything.

Retirement, our move to Spain, budgeting, and reviewing so much history as we go through our things has me rehashing every major move and every major life change we’ve made over the years.  Twenty-nine and counting, remember?

I’ve mentioned before: We have retirement income.  I’ve also mentioned before that we would have had a lot more retirement income had we not made some of our major moves and taken some of those major chances over the years.  So here goes: 1) if Jerry hadn’t retired so soon; 2) IF IDA held on to my business and waited for the economy to turn around; 3) IF IDA kept my corporate job; 4) if Jerry hadn’t left his position in Santa Barbara; 5) If we hadn’t poured all our money into a hotel (right before 9/11/01); 6) if we hadn’t poured all our money into a niche market hotel — the same one — with a limited following (right before 9/11/01); 7) if we both hadn’t left our jobs at Berkeley; 8) if we had held onto our house in San Francisco; 9) if we both hadn’t left our jobs at UC San Diego; 10) if we had held onto our house in San Diego; 11) if we both hadn’t left our jobs at Yale…

We left Yale in 1993.  I can then go back to buying the money pit in Connecticut in 1988, renovating it, and then selling it when the market was weak.  Years before that was a move from Boston to L.A. to Washington, D.C. (1982/1983) over a period of seven months — all paid for by us.  If only Jerry hadn’t left his huge corporate job in Boston and I my position there to move from Boston to L.A. (and back again). And… then… IF IDA stayed in my position with the graphic design firm in L.A.

And this is when I realize I am nearly back to my mother’s dining room set.

So, no more singing Broadway show tunes (well, I lie), but from now on, any time the words “I shoulda” or “If Ida” pop into my head, I will simply chant “dining room set.”

I am now healed… mostly.

IF IDA SEEN THAT BASEBALL BAT FLYING AT ME IN 1962.

Start Counting

Jerry and I have been together 29 years.

MAY 1982.  NINE MONTHS ALONG.
Well, 29 years, 8 months, 12 days, 22 hours, and some additional minutes.

We’ll celebrate our 30th anniversary in Spain.

When did we start counting? For lack of a better idea, we started counting the moment we met, since we were hardly ever apart from that first day. It was the moment after Jerry squeezed my elbow as he walked by me during Sunday afternoon tea dance at Chaps in Copley Square, just across the alley from the Boston Public Library.

The moment after I turned to find myself lost in eyes the color of clouds and sky.

CHAPS.  MORE CIVILIZED DURING SUNDAY AFTERNOON TEA DANCE.

The moment after I decided I didn’t care if I had only minutes before seen him talking to my very recently ex (and only real) “boyfriend” — I was still going to go home with him.

SAN JUAN.  OUR FIRST ROMANTIC (AND VERY AWKWARD), GETAWAY.
We could have started counting three months later when we flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for what was supposed to be a romantic week-long escape from Boston’s cold, damp November winds. The week when we were asked at the guest house, Arcos Blancos, if we were lovers and answered in dissonant harmony, “No. Well, yes. But … Well …” and then smiled and, red-faced, shrugged our shoulders. 
We could have stopped counting during that same trip to Puerto Rico.  When Jerry got cold feet — because it appeared we had fallen completely in love — and told me he thought it would be good for us to see other people.  Or when I very grudgingly agreed before he, back in Boston a few days later, changed his mind.  (And, for a few minutes at least, I wasn’t so sure anymore.)
An appropriate time to start counting might have been six months in, three months after we survived San Juan.  When I sat in Jerry’s tiny kitchen and told him he needed to either say good-bye to his checklist (the one that documented all his requirements for a perfect mate) or say good-bye to me.  And, without hesitation, he said good-bye to his checklist.  (I had met the height/weight requirement… and a few others.)

THE HOUSE ON THE LEFT.  “HOLY CRAP. WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

I suppose we could have started counting one month later — seven months after we first met. The day I gave up my urban-chic, completely renovated top floor in a South End brownstone, and watched the movers squeeze my solid-birch platform bed, Haitian-cotton love seat (purchased half price at Macy’s warehouse in NY), miscellaneous antique pieces, along with the boxes of audio cassettes, books, photo albums, dishes, clothing, furniture, and stuff amassed over a 27-year lifetime, into the last bit of remaining space in Jerry’s one-bedroom, smaller but urban-chic’er Beacon Hill row-house flat.

That first night spent in what had been my, but was now our, bed. A night Jerry spent snoring peacefully while I lay beside him. Sleepless. On my back. Eyes wide and staring dry and unblinking at the ceiling 12 feet above. Thinking, “I’ve given up my apartment. I have nowhere to go. What if this doesn’t work out? What have I done? What have I done? Holy crap. What have I done?”
1985.  I SHAVED AFTER OUR HOUSEKEEPER, AGNES,
SAID WE LOOKED LIKE THE SMITH BROS.

But, we didn’t start counting then or in another eight months when we decided we couldn’t bear the thought of spending one more winter in raw, damp, windy Boston.  So quit our jobs, packed our things, and flew west to L.A. to discover that we had become — in addition to lovers — best friends. And that L.A. was definitely not where we belonged, so moved again seven months later, this time to Washington, D.C.

SOMEONE ELSE’S WEDDING, ’91
If, early on, we had been able to legally marry, we would have started counting on our wedding day. But, we weren’t. So, we didn’t.
If we had not each separately, years earlier, lost our religion, we might have considered having a commitment ceremony. If only to finally have a rite from which to count. But, by the time we began to seriously consider an “official” commitment, we had already been together more than 15 years. And we wondered what it would imply about our first 15 years together to suddenly say, “OK, now we’re committed.”
I didn’t consider beginning to count when, after we had spent only a year together, Jerry’s oldest friend, Joan, asked me why I loved him and — finally stopping to think about it — I realized it was because he was exceptional. And gifted.  And flawed.  And funny.  And abundantly human.  And that, when he let “his South Dakota” come out, he was the kindest person I had ever met.  And I would love him unconditionally for as long as I could imagine.
So, we did not start counting on the day we first referred to each other as “lover” because “boyfriend” sounded silly and “partner” was at the time considered politically cowardly. Nor the day we stopped referring to each other as “lover” and began saying “partner” — because “lover” didn’t say enough (we had both had at least a few lovers, after all) and “partner” had become acceptable.
I still find myself searching for the appropriate word for us. Partner confuses people, which was made especially apparent when we went to Norway in 1998 and met some cousins for the first time.  They thought Jerry was traveling with his business partner. After they were temporarily befuddled by the fact that I knew the names of every family member in their photo album, they finally realized we were “husbands.”  But I sadly cannot get comfortable referring to Jerry as my husband.
LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA, ’93.  NOT EVEN DOMESTIC PARTNERS.
I’m still searching for that word that would define who we are as opposed to who we are not. Sometimes, I call Jerry my “spouse.” Some have called us “significant others.” Until we were legally married in Iowa in 2010, I would sometimes, half-jokingly refer to Jerry as my “domestic partner,” since, in California in 2003 we legally became at least that. Sometimes I say “life partner” or “the love of my life.” Too many imperfect choices for something the straight marrieds in our midst can say so simply. 
But, after all, why do we even have to be defined?
So, what I find myself saying is, “Jerry and I have been together 29 years.” And although I usually don’t stop to count the months, days, hours — and additional minutes — I am grateful for every single one.

Jerryism #5

“IT AIN’T THE HEAT, IT’S THE HUMILITY.”
— Yogi Berra

Lately, we’ve been finding it’s not always easy to get an inside table at Peet’s.  When the weather is nice, it doesn’t matter, but on those still slightly chilly mornings (i.e., under 65F), we like to be warm and cozy… and so apparently does everyone else.  We think if we get there after 10 on weekday mornings, we should be fine.  But, that’s not always the case.

“FRANKLY, MY DEAR, I DON’T GIVE A DAMN.”
(BUT HER NAME WAS SCARLETT.)

We had another cool morning last week.  As we were leaving home, I suggested that maybe we were a little too early and would hit the morning rush.  Intending to cleverly suggest that there was no predicting the crowd and that he was willing to just deal with it, Jerry began his pithy, famous-movie-line (he thought) retort:

JERRYISM #5

“Frankly, Charlotte…”

Nothing Says Holidays Like A Cheese Log

Thanks go to Ellen Degeneres for the title of this post (thanks go to Ellen Degeneres for a lot of things).

I went through all 10 large Rubbermaid tubs of Christmas ornaments and decorations that were stacked in the garage, and I was relieved to find not one single holiday cheese log.

HERBS OR MOLD?

I had expected (and hoped) that downsizing our Christmas collection would be easy.  It was.  The original 10 tubs have been reduced to only two.  Everything else is going to Goodwill.  Some happy thrift-store shoppers will find, among other things, 75 Hallmark ornaments (in their original boxes), a set of 24 silk penguins, 4 beautiful silk figures that Jerry brought back from China.  (Interesting that those ornaments sound so much more impressive when I say Jerry brought them back from China… as opposed to silk ornaments “made in China.”)  There are boxed sets of glass ornaments — not the traditional colored balls, but tinted large tear-drops and other forms.  All beautiful and all surprisingly easy to part with.

JULENISSE.

We’ve got a collection of carved/cast Santas that stood every year on our fireplace mantel — when we had a fireplace mantel.  These Santas were given to us, one each year, by our nephews (and I will continue to believe that a 5- and 7-year-old came up with the idea and then shopped every year all the way through high school).  Anyway, it doesn’t matter, the Santas will always make us think of Ryan and Matt.  We’ll find a new home for them (the Santas) in Spain.  All five of our Norwegian Julenisse (Christmas gnomes or Norwegian Santa Clauses) are definitely going with us.  We bought the two shown here on our first trip to Norway.  Another was brought to us as a Christmas gift one year when our cousins Jan Olaf and Inger visited us in Santa Barbara.  And the other two are beautiful hand-crafted Julenisse made for us by our cousin Ellen.  (They’re too carefully wrapped to photograph right now.)

THE DRAWING IMMEDIATELY BECAME AN ORNAMENT.

We kept special gifts given to us over the years, unusual blown-glass ornaments, one-of-a-kinds, Jerry’s baby rattle, a sweet drawing of “Annie” given to us in 1983 by a little girl named Sarah — our friends’ daughter who has remained our friend herself.  At that time, Sarah was a bit obsessed with “Annie” the musical (her sister Anne, born in 1984, is living proof).  Now, Sarah is a 30-something mother of two and Anne travels the world.  Time flies like an arrow (fruit flies like a banana).

A KEEPER.  I DON’T THINK WE’LL BE ABLE TO FIND ONE IN SPAIN.

Jerryism #4

It just doesn’t always connect with his mouth.

Jerryisms.  Malapropisms.  Fractured American idioms.  Spoonerisms.  I’ve thought of putting together a book of Jerry’s most entertaining verbal fumbles.

“WE HAVE DEEP DEPTH.” — Yogi Berra

We got to Peet’s a bit late Tuesday morning, as if we were back in Sevilla; it was almost noon when we finally arrived for our morning coffee.  While we were there we were joking with two of our favorite baristas, Breezy and Natalie, about Jerryisms.  And that reminded me of one from a few years back.

MAYNARD AND DOBIE, DE-STRESSED.
MAYNARD WAS AN ESPECIALLY POOR TRAVELER.

When we  made our move in the late ’90s from San Diego to San Francisco, we decided to take a leisurely drive up the coast instead of stuffing ourselves onto a plane.  We boarded the cats with a service that would fly them up to San Francisco once we arrived.  We felt a little guilty, but decided it would be a much more pleasant drive without two stressed-out cats yowling incessantly from the back seat.  We spent two nights on the road — for what should have been a one-day drive.  Our first night was spent 3-1/2 hours up the coast in Santa Barbara.

While we were getting ready for bed that night, Jerry intoned:

JERRYISM #4

“Kitties, I’m communicating with you telepathetically.”