Friday, August 13, 2010

The Object of My Husband's Affections 8/3/10

Last summer, after discovering that our second grandchild was on her way, my husband, Kem and I sat in the local all-night diner, held hands across the table and tearfully agreed that it was time for him to give up his mistress.

Anyone who has been a party to a long-term relationship knows that even those who are truly in love cannot always be everything to each other.  There are needs that cannot be met inside a marriage, no matter how hard each of you tries.  

I am no fool.  I knew where he went when he slipped out of bed at 2:00am.  I knew what he was up to when he was "running to the store for a Diet Coke" on a Saturday afternoon, and was gone for 3 hours.  He had come home late, guilty, breathless and disheveled more times than I could count.   

This had been going on for 13 years. 

I really could not compete with her.  I am chubby and planful.  I worry, make lists and I am a serious smart-ass.  She hasn't an ounce of fat on her.   She is sleek.  She is lithe.  She is spontaneous.  She purrs.  She made him feel free and young in a way that I never could.

But on that August morning in 2009 he agreed that, for the preservation of the family, he would give her up.

Which is how I came to drive his BMW.

Kem's Mistress

The 1994 red 325i convertible, with tan interior, had been my gift to Kem after Noah's Bagels IPO in 1996.  He had lusted after the design of the 1994, somehow finding the tail lights of the '95 and '96 models offensive (Silly me, I had thought my husband was all about headlights up until this point).

We lived in Redwood City, CA when she entered our life.  One mile from the Junipero Serra freeway (280, the most beautiful freeway in the USA).  When my composer-husband was stuck on a lyric or had lost the next phrase of melody,  Kem would jump on this spectacular roadway (the closest thing to the Autobahn)  and let this beauty do her thing.  Top down, in the middle of the night, at 105 mph he would race up and down the peninsula from San Jose to San Bruno and back, clearing his head.  Revving his creative engine.

In the summer of 2002, when we left California for life in a small southern town on the east coast, Kem and our son, Andy, drove the mistress across country on Rt 40 from Barstow CA to Wilmington, NC.  The buddy-road-trip-movies cannot touch the adventures they had together.

In our first few years in Wilmington, my husband could be seen zipping around town in his red-love with his newest purchase from Home Depot or more often, our Siberian Huskey, Tatiana, in the back seat.  If someone was trying to place us in the community I would often hear, "Is your husband the bald guy, in the red BMW, with the great dog in the backseat?"  Yes, that is my Kembo and the two ladies who proceed me in the hierarchy of his affection.

But a BMW convertible does not have room for 2 car seats.  It does not have the requisite 75 airbags to protect these babies that have entered our lives.  And, frankly, much to Tatiana's dismay, the joy of having Drew and Charlotte in PaPa's car has eclipsed the rush of having the top down and doing 0-to-60 in 7.3 seconds.

And thus, Kem gave up his mistress and we decided I should bring her to Washington DC as my commuter car.

Yikes!  I had to learn to drive a stick-shift!  After 13 years I was about to confront his mistress/drive Kem's car, for the very first time.

In Memory of Kleemo 5/30/10

Six years into their marriage, my parents had an argument and my hot-tempered-drama-prone-mother packed up my sister Joy and my brother Jim and went home to her mother.  She was seriously contemplating divorce.  It was early 1943.

My father, not to be out-done on the drama front, immediately enlisted in the US Navy.  It was war-time and federal laws made it tough to divorce absent servicemen, so he figured that this was the best course of action while my mother's temper cooled. 

The fact that their original fight was over his desire to enlist was an ironic piece of family trivia that I have always enjoyed.  As the father of two, my dad was exempt from the draft.  But he was also only 27 years old and like George Bailey he somehow felt he was both shirking a responsibility and missing the biggest event in history. 

He wanted to go.  She did not want him to go.  She threatened to divorce him if he went.  He said he was going.  She left to divorce him.  He went, and by going kept her from divorcing him.  If you cast their doppelgangers: Frank Sinatra as my father and Roz Russell as my mother...you'd have a 1940's romantic hit.

And thus it was that my father became a WWII vet.

James Robert (Bob) Householder served aboard the  USS Cebu as a Machinist Mate in the Pacific Theater.  He fixed engines and built clocks; helping the Navy to both propel forward and navigate their journey (clocks were a navigation tool). 

Bob was 28 years old when he stepped aboard his ship, discovered he was 9 years older than the average sailor in the Pacific, and was immediately given the nickname "Pops."  Pops at 28.

Most of the Cebu's primary activity was focused upon repairing other ships that had been damaged by air attacks, including kamikaze missions.  When things were slow they built clocks, when things were really slow, they made jewelry, knives, and clocks for themselves and each other out of the excess stainless steel and acrylic.  My father was a stellar machinist and mechanic, but it was at some of these other endeavors that he really excelled.  A designer by nature, he could fashion artifacts of great beauty out of the left-overs from the true business of the ship.

Pops was a  cut-up with the confidence of a man rather than the uncertainty of a teenager.  He was popular among the young men around him.  They sought him out for advice, counsel and loans.  His letters home, when not trying to woo my mother back to him are filled with stories of these boys.  This one has a broken heart, that one drinks too much, another one has nightmares and calls out for his big brother in his sleep.  Pops took his nickname seriously and tried to help them, protect them and with some, educate them just a little bit.  Which brings me to Kleemo.

Kleemo was a very young sailor who served with Pops.  Kleemo was apparently not the sharpest tool in the shed.  When he was having some trouble with a calibration, my father exasperatedly asked him, "Kleemo, how many thousandths in an inch?" To which Kleemo replied, "Geez, Pops, there must be a million of those little sons-of-bitches in an inch!"  You get the picture.  Kleemo could not keep "righty-tighty-lefty-loosey" in mind and spent his service leaving things either ajar or so tight that a blow torch had to be put into service.  

Kleemo's mom had signed the papers for him to enlist at 16.  He was 18 or 19 at this point and had never raised in rank in the 2-3 years he'd been serving.  He was a klutz and a screw-up.

After my father returned from the war and reconciled with my mother he would call my oldest brother "Kleemo," whenever Jimmy screwed up.  Pretty soon, given Jim's habit of silly mistakes, the nickname became his for good.  By the time my brother was a teenager my family had forgotten about the young sailor who inspired the name, and just thought of Jim as Kleemo.  Jim HATED the nickname.  Who could blame him? 

In 1965 my mother and I were in an Ace Hardware store in the suburbs of Chicago. She was paying for her purchases with a check.  The man behind the counter looked at the check and then at my mother and said, "You wouldn't be related to a Bob Householder, would you?  A guy who served in the Pacific during the war?"

"My husband's name is Bob Householder, and he served on the USS Cebu during the war" she replied.

The man behind the counter gave out a "WHOO!" that filled the store.  He came around the counter pointing to himself and said, "I am Joe Kleemo!  We served together.  I cannot believe this.  How is Pops? We called him Pops!"

And my poor mother had to tell Joe Kleemo that her husband, my daddy and Kleemo's "Pops" had died the year before, two months shy of his 49th birthday.  My mother had yet to learn to speak of him in the past tense.

Joe Kleemo put his hand to his mouth and then he sat down on the floor.  My mother bent down to speak to him and when he looked up at her he was crying.

"I never would have made it through the war without Pops" he said.  "I was homesick and always in trouble and Pops took-up for me many times.  You know, I stayed in the Navy, I stayed for 20 years.  Pops taught me how to use tools, how to fix things.  I became a good mechanic because of Pops."

My mother sat down next to Kleemo on the floor of the Ace Hardware and the two of them cried together.  I was 11 and was mortified and horrified by this display.

In a couple of minutes they were laughing.  Kleemo was telling a story of mischief or mayhem that Pops had caused.  How he had teased and tormented the boys and the officers aboard that unsexy, unsung repair ship.

I was fascinated by the fact that there was a real person named Kleemo.  However, this person did not reconcile with the nickname for a screw-up that had plagued my big brother.

In the car on the way home I mentioned this dissonance to my mother.  It was always impossible to tell what would upset her in the years after my dad died, so I was a little nervous about whether I should have brought up my confusion.

"Honey," my mother said, "your daddy didn't call Jimmy "Kleemo" because he was making mistakes, he called Jimmy "Kleemo" when he was teaching him something.  Your daddy must have loved teaching that young man....he teased him, which he only did to those he loved.  He loved Kleemo, like he was a little brother.  And when he came home he called his own little boy by that lonely young sailor's name, every time he was teaching him."

I think of Kleemo every Memorial Day.  Every year since that day in 1965 I think about the lonely young men, far from home, some so young they turned the 28 year old's around them into father figures.  I think of Kleemo because he is my father's brother in arms and my brother in loss.

James Robert (Bob and Pops) Householder is buried in the National Cemetery in San Bruno California overlooking the San Francisco bay, my mother, Rita Naddy is with him there.  They are both buried under a single headstone that details his service in a war in which he was not obligated to serve and which threatened their relationship.

Today we remember all of those who served and all of those who begged them not to go.

A Word About World Class Talent 4/26/10

Silicon Valley was not my first time at the world-class-talent-rodeo.

Me as the bomb in 1972
In 1972 I was the bomb.  I was studying acting, planning on becoming an actor and a comedy writer.  I was a serious smart-ass and I thought I was pretty damn cute.

I hung out with some pretty talented kids.  All going to school and working and planning on becoming famous musical theater stars.

That was never my dream; I wanted to be Sally Rogers.

I wanted to hang out all day with a bunch of funny boys and write stuff that would make folks laugh.

No one had heard of Tina Fey yet, so Sally Rogers from the Dick Van Dyke  Show was my only role-model.  (Well, to be fair Tina Fey was only 2 years old when I was 18....she might have been a role model to other toddlers but she didn't have a lot to offer me). 

That semester I was taking a class that had an "audition requirement."  We had to audition for a number of productions to increase our confidence with the process.

I did not audition well.  I used "Itsy Bitsy Spider" as my audition song for musicals, hoping the cute factor would carry me.  I was not a very good cold-reader.   I was a zoftig girl who spent a lot of time holding her stomach in..so my breathing was screwed up and I was much too self conscious.  I usually defaulted to improvising some nonsense and hoping they did not notice I was off-script.  Truth is, I just didn't take it too seriously.

But the kids I went to school with took it very seriously.  When the news came to us that a new musical was being produced in the area my school-mates went nuts.  They converged on the library, checking out the script and score to this offbeat (and remarkably bad) musical four weeks in advance of the auditions.

One of my classmates was a very talented young man named Ray.  Ray had a beautiful tenor voice and the lead seemed made for him.  Others of my cohorts were also good singers, trained dancers and accomplished actors.  They studied the score and the script, they researched the director and the musical team.  They prepared.  I went along to fulfill a requirement and hang with my friends, I had no illusions about my performing talents.  But I thought my friends were great.  I thought they were the best.

We all went to the audition and did the usual things: sing, read, dance a bit.  Then the director had us do it all over again.  Sing, read and dance a bit.  We were sitting around the theater waiting for her (the director was a woman, named Marilouise) to thank some of us for showing up (me) and ask some others to either stick around or come back (my friends).  But she seemed to be stalling.  We were waiting and waiting and she was conferring with her musical team and just letting us sit there.

We were beginning to grouse a bit when the door to the theater opened and a young man entered.
Several of my classmates started to whisper and fidget.  They apparently knew this thin, pale, sandy-haired guy.  He just looked like a skinny John-Boy Walton to me.  But, he was having some serious effect on the inhabitants of the theater.  Ray looked sick.

The director spotted him and jumped off of the stage and ran up to him.  Now, this director was a big girl, six feet tall and at least 275lbs.  So, when she jumped and ran, it was something to see and I have to admit I was mesmerized, so I was paying pretty close attention when she grabbed John-Boy by the lapels (who wears a suit to an audition?) and dragged him to the stage.

As they passed by me I heard John-Boy say, "Thanks for the note, Marilouse, but I forgot the audition was today and I did not prepare."

Note?  He got a note?  Like an invitation?  I had heard about this audition through the grapevine, others heard about it from our instructors at school and some had read about it in the papers.  But a note?  No one I knew had gotten an invitation to this audition.  What the hell was going on?

Marilouise was falling all over herself hustling John-Boy to the stage.  "Sing anything!' she said.
"Sing, Happy Birthday,"  she demanded.
"Really, I have been at work all day at Marshall Fields and I am tired and not in good voice," John-Boy said as he tried to untangle himself from Marilouise's grasp (but she had 135lbs on him and she was not letting go).

By this time, I had heard my friends referring to "Kem" and I realized that this was John-Boys first or last name.  They all seemed to know him.  I did not.  And I could not for the life of me figure out what was happening.  Why was he invited?  Why was Ray turning colors?  C'mon, my friends were the most talented people I had ever met.  What did Ray have to worry about?

Marilouise was not letting go and it was clear John-Boy was going to have to sing or get his arm wrung from his body.  So, as we all watched, he walked over to the music director and asked to see the score.  Why he asked to see the score I could not fathom.  What was he going to do with the score?  He had already admitted he had not prepared.  None of the songs from this musical were well known (for good reason, that musical sucks), so what was he doing?

John-Boy flipped through the score and then said, "Ok, I will do this one."
"Shall I play it through once?" the pianist asked.
And John-Boy said something so interesting.  He said, "No."
Again, what?  He has never seen the score before.  He is going to just pick it up and sing something from it?  Having never even heard it?  What was happening here?

The pianist began playing an intro that I recognized as the song Ray had been practicing all month.  The big emotional number, sung by the lead.  Ray had nailed the same song in his audition a couple of hours ago.

John-Boy opened his mouth and started to sight-sing that difficult, obscure piece of music.

I certainly remember that John-Boys voice was beyond beautiful;  it was the voice of a sexy, love-lorn angel.  He seemed to be making the song up.  He didn't falter or stall and as he approached the final high note, he bent his knees slightly, dropped his chin a bit and held onto that note without stress or strain or even apparent effort.  And I remember being stunned and amazed at the ability to make that sound while sight-singing.  But, what I most remember is the sound of air rushing past my ears.  Really.  I felt as though I was being pulled at an accelerating speed though a tunnel of music.  I could see John-Boy, but all I could hear was this whooshing by my ears.

And then I heard my friend Ray groan a little as he sunk down in his seat.

I realized then that I was in the presence of "the real thing."  My friends were talented, but John-Boy was something else.  He was a world-class talent.  It was my first exposure to "the real thing."

I was only 18.  I did not know that the gap between talented and world-class was so wide.  But, now I understood why Marilouise had sent him the note and why she had held on to him for dear life.  She knew what was coming.  She knew that heart-stopping-world-class-talent was there.  I did not know.  I was not prepared. 

When John-Boy finished singing he shrugged his shoulders as if apologizing for his performance.  "I told you I hadn't prepared," he said.

The pianist was applauding and shaking her head.  The entire theater of competing actors were applauding.  Something I had never seen at an audition.

Marilouise was frantically moving around the stage as though she had forgotten where she was or what she was doing.

"Oh!" she exclaimed.  "You need to read....you need a partner to read with!"
She was panting, I think.

And she looked out in the crowd and her eyes landed on me, "You, girl with the long hair, come over here and read with Kem Hauge!"

And, as I climbed up on that stage to read (and pretend we were a machine), I realized that I was not and never would be a world-class talent.

But I also realized that just because I wasn't a world-class talent,  it didn't mean that a world-class-talent might not one day be mine.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do 9/24/09

I ended a very intimate 23 year relationship today. Goodbye, Chanel #19. We were good together....but you have moved to Paris and refuse to come to the US, so our relationship must end. These long distance things never work out, do they? I will miss you every day and I wonder if men will still want to sit next to me in meetings without you behind my ear.

The Secret 6/11/09

I am not sure what awakens me each early morning when I am in North Carolina.

It might be the freight train that rumbles through this small southern town at 4:30.

Or, it might be Tatiana, the Siberian Husky that sleeps beneath the bed; she harrumphs and sighs with each change of position during the night.

Or, it might be that I am of an age when women wake frequently during the night.

Whatever the cause, when I am in Wilmington I invariably awaken at that early hour when it is neither night nor light outside.

I do not stay awake long.

I reach for Kem.

He faces south, away from me.

I move up against his back and slip my arm under his and around his chest.

Kem does not wake up, but he rouses enough to make room for my arm and tug me just a bit closer to him.

We are spoons.

I am a foot shorter than Kem, so we are spoons with the teaspoon behind the soup spoon.

Kem smells like gingersnaps stored in a cedar closet, spicy and sweet.

He has always been the best smelling man on earth.

I breathe in the scent I know so well from 35 years of hugs and my respiration slows.

We keep the room cool; it is semi-dark and so quiet at that hour.

We both fall into the best sleep of the night, the two hours before the alarm.

And that is the secret.

We sleep best with both of our heads on the same pillow.

A Perfect Day for a Long Journey 5/19/09

I think the 19th of May is a beautiful day for the trip to heaven.
The sky is so blue.
The world is in bloom.
The grass is green, not yet sunburned by summer heat.
Kids play outside after school at this time of year.
Adults search for places to eat their lunches out of doors.
The sky stays light into the evening and people take walks and greet their neighbors.
Yes, looking over your shoulder on the way to heaven would be a lovely sight.
A world of light and color and goodwill disappearing behind you.
It must be a comfort as you make your way to heaven and leave your loved ones behind.
My sister, Joy, is making the trip today.
It is time. She has been very ill.
But, Joy leaves many who love her behind on earth.
We are blessed with this beautiful day.
As Joy makes her journey, we close our eyes, turn up to the sun and feel a touch of the warmth of our sister's love on our faces.