The second Tuesday of November is Election Day here in the US and that’s a special day for me because I met my wife for the very first time on Election Night. While we were meeting for a drink that night it wasn’t a date, but that didn’t stop me from doing my best to try and make a good impression.
At that time in my life, making a good impression was a new experience for me. For a long time I had been leading with a bad impression but I was determined to make a change. I was also discovering that my new habit of trying was causing me to panic; it’s funny how caring about things can do that.
One hour before I was supposed to meet my non date I was dressed up in my best closed and in my car. It was only supposed to be a 20 minute drive but I didn’t want to be late. Even after taking the long way I made it with 20 minutes to spare so I sat down and ordered a drink and tried to look casual, because it was not a date. Then I started to panic…
"What if she thinks I’ve been here waiting all day? What kind of maniac arrives first?…..I can’t be here, I’ve got to leave."
I don’t know why I thought that arriving early would be considered bad. At least I didn’t understand it at the time. Today I realize that I thought it would reveal how much I was looking forward to meeting her. Maybe she’d think I was trying to hard in my stupid hardly wrinkled shirt and jacket. Or, I was worried that I might try to make a good impression and still fail. A bad first date is rough, a bad first not a date isn’t that much easier, especially when one of those people would be willing to make it a date if he could.
With 5 minutes to go before she was set to arrive I made a choice. She was not going to come in there and see me sitting alone…but I couldn’t leave through the front door since she could come walking through it as I was leaving. There was no back door either, leaving me only one option. It was risky but I had no choice.
Moments later she arrived and took a seat at the bar and I was nowhere to be seen.
After several minutes of hiding in the men’s room, I realized that I had created a new problem for myself.
It seems impossible that so much time has passed since my father passed away. On October 16, 2009 my phone rang at 3AM, I was not expecting the news but I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was. In hindsight I should have known something was wrong when, six months earlier, as I was planning a trip home to Long Island he asked me to put some time aside so we could talk.
We had never been the sitting down to chat kind of guys but there’s a first time for everything. On a Saturday afternoon I found myself chasing a hangover with $2 beers at the bar of an American Legion Hall. After spending the previous two nights drinking too much with friends, sitting in the nearly empty bar with my father felt like a much needed change of pace. Sure we were still drinking but we were at least pacing ourselves.
Our conversation started with baseball and then moved onto serious issues. I can’t remember the exact words anymore but my father was trying to tell me that he was sorry that we hadn’t always gotten along but that he had always tried to do the right thing. I told him that I was sorry too and I knew that he always had my best interests in mind.
Somehow, I didn’t know what he was trying to tell me, I can be dense sometimes.
My ignorance was based on his age (54) and the hope that we’d have meaningful conversations like that in the future. As fate would have it we’d only have one more chance. Two nights later we sat in the same bar and watched the first half of a Mets game before heading back to his house for the rest. I didn’t notice that he moved around the house a lot slower than he used to. I was just happy that we were finally getting along. I went back to Los Angeles the next morning and didn’t return until after my phone rang at 3AM.
After four years I have come to terms with the fact that I saw what I chose to see the last time I saw my father. Along the same lines I understand why he chose to not come right out and tell me that he was not well even if I still disagree with that decision. In the end it was his choice to make and of course, he had my best interests in mind.
Today would have been my father’s birthday had he not passed away a few years ago. Here is the very brief retelling of a conversation he and I had once about 10 years ago.
My dad was a talkative guy unless there was something he didn’t want you to know about, which was often. Several years ago I went home for a visit and found something new at the house that I just had to ask him about even though I knew that I wasn’t going to get much in the way of a straight answer.
"Hey dad, where did you get this bird?"
"I found it on the road."
"The expressway, it was just sitting there."
"In the cage? That’s convenient. Does it talk?"
"Yeah, it say’s stop asking questions."
I thought for a moment and then foolishly continued:
"Dad, are you smuggling rare birds?"
"That bird isn’t rare, look there’s one right there. How rare can it be if I have one?"
"I guess you have a point."
"You done asking questions?"
"Good. You hungry? I’ll make you something."
I never found out where that bird came from.
The day before we were supposed to get married, Nina and I packed up everything we would need for the next few days and started driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. What we needed consisted of five cases of wine, some clean clothes, my $89 suit, her $119 dress and wedding rings we had bought online. After we filled the gas tank we had $60 to our names. We had a lot of things to be happy about that day but having money was not one of them.
We were broke but I wasn’t overly concerned about that. We had enough gas to get where we were going, our families were on the way to Las Vegas, our room was paid for and I had a paycheck coming my way at the end of the week. All I had to do was not do anything dumb and show up to the wedding chapel on time; if I did that everything would be fine.
The idea of being fine and getting married seemed impossible six months earlier; for starters I had yet to meet Nina. I was still in the process of rebuilding my life after a long period of unhappiness, depression, physical illness, poor decision-making and financial difficulties. For a long time it felt like my life was in an irreversible downward spiral but over time I made some changes and things began to turn around.
While making my way back to the life I wanted to live Nina and I met and I knew that she was the one for me almost immediately. After spending so many years making the wrong choices I knew the right choice when I saw it. My only problem was that I couldn’t keep the fact that I knew we had stumbled into something good to myself.
On our second date I told her that I thought we should get married. Sure this was exactly the kind of ridiculously impulsive decision-making that had nearly ruined my life but this was the smart kind of impulsive. I wasn’t making a desperate decision in an attempt to cover up some void in my life. I was telling someone that my life was never better than when she was in it and I didn’t want her to get away.
Nina was smart enough to turn down my second date wedding proposal but a month later she asked me if that proposal was still on the table; it was. Five months later we were actually going through with it.
In the time between announcing our engagement and driving to Vegas to get married we took care of a few important things: We started living together and I met her parents. Meeting my parents was going to have to wait. I wasn’t hiding my family from her, it was just too difficult to get my parents to Los Angeles as a result my future wife would be meeting my parents the night before our wedding. If she was at all nervous about this, she didn’t let on.
The plan once we got to Vegas was as follows: We’d get in around 2:00 PM, check in and then head downtown to get our marriage license. At 7 PM the families would meet for dinner, then after dinner was wide open. We arrived on time and checked in. While waiting for a car to take us downtown our plans changed. As we stood on the curb a cab pulled up and my family stepped out. Despite being divorced for 25 years my parents had traveled together along with two of my sisters and one of my brothers. Nina was ready to meet my family, she just hadn’t planned on doing it at a taxi stand and my family probably felt the same way but it worked out fine. Everyone was too surprised to be nervous and we exchanged hugs and introductions as their bags were being unloaded onto the curb.
Just before Nina and I got into the car that would drive us downtown my father puled us aside and handed me an envelope saying:
“It’s not much but I wanted to give this to you guys before the wedding.”
I thanked him, put the envelope in my pocket and got in the car to get my marriage license. In the car I opened the envelope. Inside was $1,200. My family is not a rich or even financially comfortable. The cost of airfare and hotels was not insignificant so I was happy that they had made it. The gift was an unexpected surprise. My father, knowing that we spent all that we had to get to our wedding day, wanted to make sure we had fun. While we weren’t married yet I handed half of the money to Nina and put the rest away. I now had some spending money and less than 24 hours until I was to get married. I felt pretty great.
The process of getting a marriage license in Nevada is quick and easy. Within an hour from the moment we ran into my family, Nina and I were back in the hotel getting ready for dinner and talking about what the rest of the day would hold. Nina was curious as to what I had in mind for my last night as a single guy. I hadn’t made any plans for that night. I didn’t see getting married as the end of anything. I wasn’t being sentenced to marriage; I was pretty excited about it. I just wanted to get through the night without any problems. I was too anxious about the fact that my family was about to meet Nina’s family to think about what would come next but I wasn’t worried about it because I was in Las Vegas and everything in my life was going great; something would come up.
As we made our way down to dinner with our families we were nervous but things went very well. Everyone got along just fine especially our dads who hit it off pretty quickly and remained inseparable for the rest of the trip. After dinner we broke off into smaller groups to have drinks, gamble or just hang out. Nina and I hung out with our brothers and sisters for a while but since everyone had just spent most of the day traveling it was mutually agreed that we should call it an early night before the big day tomorrow. We’ll everyone agreed but me, I decided that I was going to stay up for a while. After walking Nina back to our hotel room I promised Nina I wouldn’t get in trouble and headed out to see what Las Vegas could do for me on the night before my wedding.
It was probably around 11:00 PM when I started making my way back down to the casino floor. While there were endless possibilities for a guy looking to do dumb things in the city I wasn’t going to go far. I’ve never been a strip club kind of guy and I was alone so the stereotypical bachelor party activity was out. I considered tracking down Nina’s brother but decided that I’d rather play poker. Since I had gotten some unexpected cash earlier I figured I could gamble a little.
As far as activities go poker was literally the safest bet for me; back then I was playing regularly and was good enough to hold my own in a poker room. I sat down to play but the cards weren’t coming and the room was kind of lifeless. It was the lack of activity in the room that was bothering me. I was about to take the biggest step of my life and I wanted some excitement so I decided to go look for it. Shortly after 12:30 AM I cashed out from the poker room and found I was actually up a few dollars.
Outside of the poker room I looked at my options: With a little over $600 in my pocket I could do a lot of things but I didn’t want to spend all of my money. I found a $10 blackjack table, ordered a drink started to play. I felt great. The last six months of my life felt like the greatest winning streak I had ever been on. I had gone from leading and aimless and unhappy life to feeling focused and as happy as I had ever been in my life. Sure I was still broke but Nina and I would find a way to make it work. For tonight I had cash in my pocket and a bright future ahead of me. I traded $100 for chips and placed a bet. It was almost 1:00 AM on my wedding day and everything was great.
Twenty minutes later I had gotten a free drink but I was out $100; another way of looking at this situation was that I paid $100 for a Jack and Coke. Blackjack moves fast and it moves even faster when, like me, you don’t really know how to play. Sure I understood some of the game but not enough to maximize my chances of winning. My lack of knowledge may have had no impact on the hands I just lost but it certainly didn’t help me any. I assumed however that this was just an unlucky bump in the road. I still had over $500 and a good feeling so I bought in for another hundred and ordered another free drink.
The second hundred dollars didn’t go as fast but I had no better luck with it. At one point I even went on a little winning streak but it didn’t last. At this point the time was approaching 2:00 AM, even in Vegas very little good ever happens after this time of night. If I were smart that night I would have packed it up and gone to bed but I didn’t because I foolishly held out hope that the universe cared that my 7 year losing streak had finally been turned around. How could the casino not understand that I was finally a winner? I put down another $100 and lost it.
Things had taken a bad turn but I still had half of my money left and I was getting married the following afternoon. It was then that I decided to stop gambling…at that blackjack table. I found a new table that felt lucky to me, sat down, and put all of the money I had left down on the table. Something in my mind had snapped and I was making a bad situation worse.
Here’s the thing about $600. It’s not a lot of money, unless it’s all of the money you have in the world. When it’s all the money you have in the world the smart thing to do is to stick it in your pocket and consider yourself lucky to have it. When you’re getting married to someone you met less than six months earlier and you only have $600 to your name you would be smart to try and prove to your future spouse that you posses common sense or at the very least you stick to the things you are good at when you’re gambling. These are things I wish I had considered before I traded all of the money I had left for chips and compounded my losses by increasing my bets. I was a lousy player at $10 per hand so at $50 a hand I was 5 times as bad.
I hung in there at the table for a little bit but despite several opportunities to put the money I had left in my pocket I chased my losses until I was broke. It was now approaching 3:00 AM and I was holding a losing combination of broke and stupid. I took my free drink and sulked away unsure of what I was going to do.
While I was losing Nina texted me to ask how it was going and I of course said that it was going fine. At the time it was true, as I hadn’t really gone off the rails at that point but in the hour since things went very badly and it was my fault. I found a quiet spot to try to compose myself and finish my drink before heading up to my room.
When I got back to the room and sat down at the desk. Nina sat up in the bed and immediately knew something was wrong when I continued to sit there quietly.
“How did it go?” She asked.
“That’s okay, you didn’t lose all of it.”
“You are the dumbest person in the world. That was all the money we had.”
She was right, at that moment I felt like the dumbest person alive. She knew my past history of bad decisions but believed that those days were behind me. Now, hours before we were supposed to be married I had done something to make her wonder if she was making a mistake. I quietly asked:
“Do you still want to marry me?”
“Yes, but I can’t believe you did this. Go to sleep.”
The next day Nina had a full day of pre-wedding activities planed and I was just trying to stay out of trouble. Luckily I was broke so my options were limited. I wandered the hotel, hung around and had lunch with a friend who had come in for the wedding and mostly worried if Nina was going to reconsider this whole thing. Six months earlier we hadn’t met yet and now we were about to get married. I wondered if she thought this was all crazy, if like a gambler, I was just doubling down because I didn’t know when to quit. I could understand why someone would feel this way but I was certain that we could make this work.
With two hours to go until I was supposed to get married I put on my suit and waited in front of the chapel, where I hoped that her answer would still be yes.
I wrote this on the eve of Election Day 2008:
On a winter night in 1981 my mother was ironing my bed like she did whenever it was cold. Basement apartments on Long Island can get cold but not always cold enough to justify the luxury of turning on the heat. When it was time for bed my mother would bundle us up in our PJ’s and run the iron over the bedsheets and blankets until it was warm enough for us to fall asleep. When I asked when we could turn on the heat, my mother said we could when turn it on things were better but that didn’t happen for a while. Until things got better the iron was the best we could do; it was small way to make things easier to bear.
For the last 8 years I feel like many of us here in America have been taking small steps to make things more bearable but we’re been waiting waiting for a chance to make a lasting change. I hope that when I wake up on Wednesday we’re one giant step closer to where we want to be. For now I feel like ironing my bed to make it through the last cold nights.
In the last four years we have made steps, large and small, towards making the world better more compassionate place. It hasn’t been a smooth ride and our President has made some choices I don’t like, but he’s also done a lot of positive things; more than enough to make me proud to support him.
Four years later I still believe that President Obama is the best choice to keep it from getting very cold in America.