Business First: A Trust Issue
When I admitted to Bernice that I owed the Federal Government $10,000, she asked to take a look at my financial profile.
Bernice: Your finances are all (……) up!
Those of you who know Bernice can appreciate how rarely she resorted to swear words. Sure as (….) got my attention.
Bernice: I could fix all this but we will have to have an agreement.
Garry: What kind of agreement?
Bernice: From here on, you have to turn any money you make over to me. That simple. I will use your money to pay down your IRS bill, make you an investment plan, and maybe get you a new car.
Garry: Isn’t that kind of like Jesus feeding the multitudes with a loaf of bread?
Bernice: That’s the other thing.
Bernice: You can’t ever question me.
I pretty much knew that my financial affairs were in the toilet, but I had always thought I would someday get my shit together, either that or I would write a book or land a job that would pay me enough money to handle my excesses with a little something left over. I even had a back-up plan if none of this worked. Simply forgo worldly success and become a beach bum, a free soul spending his days communing with the waves on public beaches around the world. Living on peanut-butter & relish sandwiches.
Not to mention, I’m a natural born Doubting Thomas and I reserve the right to question anybody I damn well please. Male pride had my foot halfway to my mouth before my Brain stepped in.
Brain: Hold up, bro. Let’s look at the big picture here. You’re pushing fifty. You owe the government. You have no savings, your TV show just vaporized, and your car leaks/burns a quart of oil a day. If you weren’t living with Bernice, you wouldn’t have a a pot to piss in. Take the Deal and Be Happy!
After the Brain’s tirade my pride held out for another two minutes, during which I pretended to weigh my options. Bernice had already walked off, either to give me space or to avoid a display of male ego run amok.
Later at dinner-
Garry: So if I take you up on your offer, can I at least ask how I’m doing from time to time. You know, financially speaking?
Bernice: You will be doing fine. Don’t worry about it.
Garry: Well, does anybody else have to know about this?
Bernice: Who would I tell?
Garry: People we know. Your family. My family.
Bernice: I don’t talk about my own finances. Why should I talk about yours?
Garry: You talk finances with your sister Ellie.
Bernice: We play the stock market together. We loan each other money whenever one of us needs it. Short term, no questions asked kind of stuff.
Garry: (with a shrug) What have I got to lose. God knows I could use some help. Let’s do this thing.
Bernice: This is not a rap tune, babe. “Let’s do this thing,” means you’re ok with it? All of it?
Garry: I’m ok with it. All of it. Are you ok though? Seems like you’re taking on a lot of headache.
Bernice: Small potatoes. Just keep your day job. And so you know, you’re calling the IRS to work out a payment plan and this year you’re filling out your own taxes.
(She must have read the panic on my face.)
Bernice: Ok, I’ll help you. But you’re doing most of the work, mister.
Honeymoon Snap Shots & Vignettes
I refer to the following memories as the halcyon days of our life partnership. The tears these memories evoke, 14 months into my grieving, are those of gratitude, more so than pain. I humbly extend that gratitude to those of you who have helped me get to this place.
Home is the Hunter
I credit Bernice for a myriad of blessings. One in particular was a job upgrade. Soon after we met at my Tuesday/Thursday evening class at the library, Bernice became curious about what seemed to her an unusual work schedule.
Bernice: So let me get this straight. You travel between three GED sites a day…
Garry: And a half day on Friday.
Bernice: A half day at a totally different site.
Bernice: Sounds like you’re in sales.
Bernice: Well you travel around all week with your books and attendance materials in your car, just like a salesman with his product. I know you love to teach but doesn’t all that moving around get old?
Garry: That’s how adult ed works. At least for full-timers.
Bernice: Wouldn’t you rather do all your teaching at one site?
Garry: Sure I would.
Bernice: Then why don’t you?
Garry: I guess because the way the system works, the Adult Ed Department is mandated by the state to open up new sites to accommodate more students. Sites open up, instructors get assigned. It’s a funding thing.
Bernice: So let the new teachers take on the new sites. I know how hard you work to keep your classes open. There must be some sites that have an AM/PM schedule. You could keep something like that going.
Garry: Look, every year, especially when winter hits, I ask my boss to bring me in out of the cold. Let me have a permanent site. And what I get is, “Be glad you’ve got a full schedule to begin with.”
Bernice: Maybe you’re asking the wrong person.
Garry: Who else would I ask. Her coordinators handle the site staffing and she has final approval. I’m already talking to the top dog.
Bernice: Maybe it’s the wrong top dog.
Garry: Maybe you’re barking up the wrong tree. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Bernice: If anybody’s barking up the wrong tree it’s you. Your boss is not the only boss involved. Every one of your sites has a boss.
Bernice: So why don’t you talk to one of them about extending the GED classes to reach more of their clients?
Garry: I suppose, but I don’t know if any of the sites could bear that much traffic.
Bernice: What about the that Automotive Training place? MC something.
Garry: Michigan Career Institute?
Bernice: According to you they’ve got a ton of students, and classes morning, noon, and night. You’re already there four mornings a week.
Garry: (as the light goes on) You know, that’s true. And not only that, but the director approached me the other day about teaching math and report writing to some of the MCI training staff. And if I could talk him into allowing neighborhood students access in the afternoons…
Bernice: Well there you go then. Problem solved.
And it was. Within a month I was assigned a full work week at the Michigan Career Institute. No more night classes and only a half day on Friday.
Breakfast With Bernice
Even though I had no regrets about leaving my former lifestyle in the rear view mirror, I did not immediately embrace Bernice’s regimen, especially her pre-breakfast routine. For the first couple weeks the best I could do was watch in awe as every work-day at five bells sharp she slid out of bed, fell into her exercise togs, and clicked on her exercise video with the aplomb of a sleepwalker. Then it was a full hour of step aerobics followed by an hour of weight lifting and stretching.
I had trouble keeping up with the step aerobics and to this day I abhor stretching, so I would follow Bernice out of bed, stagger into my running gear and lite out for a run in the streets of Southfield. I never ran for more than an hour, so Bernice would still be going at it when I returned home. I filled the downtime before breakfast by luxuriating in really long showers in my very own bathroom.
Breakfast for Bernice was a cornucopia of fruit and cereal that would put a smile on Paul Bunyan’s face. Over time I was able to match Bernice’s zest for fitness, but I never managed to hold my own at the breakfast table.
Bernice and I shared a love of the arts. Just not necessarily the same arts. Some of our likes overlapped, performing arts such as dance and theatre, and of course, movies. But our musical tastes were generations apart. I cut my teeth on R&B and was serendipitously positioned to witness the birth of Rock & Roll in my early teens. Bernice grew up with the big bands, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Benny Goodman & the crooners, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, & Frank Sinatra.
Both of us branched out from the music of our youth. Different roots, different branches. Bernice got hooked on classical music and became an absolute opera maven. I dabbled in jazz, went gaga over folk music, and like Barbara Mandrell I can honestly say, “I was Country when Country wasn’t cool.”
How Far Apart Were We?
(sitting on the couch in Bernice’s entertainment room)
Bernice: Got a question for you. My kids just laughed when I asked them.
Garry: And you think I won’t laugh.
Bernice: Better not.
Garry: Lay it on me.
Bernice: Don’t laugh.
Garry: I won’t laugh. C’mon already.
Bernice: Ok, what is The Moody Blues?
Garry: (with a kindly chuckle) I’m not laughing. They’re a rock band. English I think. Pretty big back in the 60’s. Still goin’ strong far as I know.
Bernice: Well why would my kids mention them around me? Then laugh because I didn’t know.
Garry: (treading lightly) I can think of a couple of reasons. For one thing, the band was so popular your kids couldn’t believe you never heard of them …
Bernice: I was busy raising my family. Maybe I didn’t have time to follow the new music.
Garry: (back peddling like crazy) Fair enough. But you didn’t let me get to the other thing it might be.
Bernice: I’m listening.
Garry: You love classical music, right? Ok, well The Moody Blues sort of fused rock and roll with classical music. So the kids may have just figured you’d appreciate a sound like that.
Bernice: I’d appreciate you all understanding my situation better.
Garry: Don’t put me in with the “all”.
Bernice: Why not?
Garry: Because I’m sensitive to your situation: working, raising a family, having all those husbands…
Bernice: Watch it there Mr. sensitive. You’re digging yourself a hole and I’m about ready to push you in.
Garry: I’m sure I don’t know what that means.
Bernice: Oh really? Ok, who was it who went all crazy when I mispronounced that Bob Dylan’s name because I never heard of him.
She had me there. All the poor girl had done was ask me who Bob Dylan was, but she pronounced the “y” as a long “i” as in “Dilan. Just as she said, I “went all crazy” by dropping to my knees and begging her to promise never to make this mistake in public for the sake of both our cultural reputations. I was just clowning, but In hindsight it was not my finest hour.
Bernice: You know what I think? (no pause for my response) I think you’re all too smug for your own good. I got something to show you. Come in here. (She was headed to the living room and I could not follow fast enough)
Bernice: You see this? (She points to a massive, multi-vinyl album playing machine, probably an RCA and probably expensive at the time she bought it)
Bernice: I can put ten albums on there and listen to every one of them in an evening. And before I started hangin’ around with you, I would do that a lot. (pause to let that to sink in) Now look here in this cabinet. (not waiting for me to comment on the handsome wood cabinets and plethora of albums.) These selves here are for classical and these over here are for opera. That’s twenty years of music right there. And I don’t just have the records. I’ve seen most of this music performed live, either in Michigan or Canada. I have favorite tunes from every one of these albums and when a hear one of those tunes on the radio or out someplace I can tell which composer or which opera it’s from. Now how about you Mr. Culture. How many of these composers do you recognize? How many of these operas do you know anything about?
Garry: (shaking his head ruefully) I guess I only really know about popular music.
Bernice: (as close to exploding as I’ve ever seen her) And that’s another thing. That “popular”. You need to be more careful with your words. What you all are talking about is “current”. The music I’m talking about is popular all over the world. Been popular for a long time. Hundreds of years some of it. And millions of people listen to it ever year. Millions of dollars are spent on symphony halls and opera houses to make sure this music is around for a long time. So you need to look at the fact that there is a ton of “popular” music you don’t know a thing about.
Garry: (hammered and nailed) Yes mam.
Cultural Resolution #1
From film Pretty Woman (one of our faves): Richard Gere (Edward Lewis) to Julia Roberts (Vivien Ward) at a performance of La Traviata
“People’s reaction to opera the first time they see it is often very dramatic; they either love it or hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.”
I would amend the Edward Lewis sentiment somewhat. Here’s my version: whether you love opera or hate it depends a lot on who “brung ya” to your first opera experience.
Bernice had established herself as a volunteer usher at the renowned Masonic Temple long before we met, and she was not going to let a little thing like having a live-in boyfriend interrupt her habits.
Bernice: (as we go up the steps to enter Masonic Temple) I think you’re going to love this.
Garry: You mean “this” the opera or ‘this” the ushering.
Bernice: I mean the whole thing. That’s why I wanted to come early, so we can do a little exploring. This is a wonderful facility. I like it better than the Fisher Theatre. So much to see, the shows, the artists, artwork, the architecture
Garry: You’re starting to sound like a docent.
Bernice: I could be. I’ve spent enough time here.
Garry: I’ll bet you would be a terrific docent.
Bernice: You would be better at it than me. You like to get up in front of folks. We’ll just have to educate you some. Might be a new line of work for you.
Garry: I just have to get through tonight first.
After a whirlwind tour of the facility we are passing through the lobby on our way to our pre-show briefing.
Garry: Wow, just look at these folks all gussied up. They look like pretty high rollers to me. I can imagine taking one of these guys to the wrong seat. He’d probably choke me with his cummerbund. And I’m sure that lady over there would swallow one of her Tiaras if I stepped on her toes.
Bernice: Get over how they dress. They are just people. Most of them are season ticket holders and they know where their seats are. Sometimes you get newcomers. All you have to do is help them find their row. Sometimes you get people in the wrong section. You just send them to the head usher and let him straight things out. You’ll get the hang of it. What’s really important is to keep your eye out for a couple of empty seats for us. Be looking for me when the curtain goes up. (pause) By the way, you look real nice in your coat and tie. First time I’ve seen you dressed up.
Garry: You should talk. I’ve never seen you in your usher outfit either. Navy Blue jacket over starched white shirt. Sharp as a blade. And with your glasses and hairdo, you got authority written all over you.
Later in the choice seats Bernice had scoped out.
Bernice: (whispering, her hand slipped into mine, our shoulders touching) This is La Traviata. My favorite. I’ll tell you all about it at intermission.
Richard Gere, eat your heart out.
Cultural Resolution #2
It has been said that Negro League Baseball great Cool Papa Bell was so fast that he could enter a room, flick on the light switch and be in bed before the light came on.
Friday night, just after sunset, Bernice sitting alone atop the covers on her bed, beer in hand, primed for our big experiment; music piped into the darkened bedroom from Bernice’s Big Music Machine in the living room. It’s my turn to provide the culture for the evening, so Bernice is not sure what to expect. Somewhat reluctantly she has agreed to let me prime the Big Music Machine and I am in the living room doing just that. I chuckle like a cat burglar as I pluck five surprise albums that I have cleverly wedged into the gaps between her classical records. With the care of a jeweler, I load the albums onto the BMM’s hold/release mechanism. As I press “Play” I wait just long enough to hear the unctuous sounds of a hydraulic system that would put Detroit’s finest autos to shame, and then like Cool Papa Bell I run to reach Bernice before the first record drops.
Two hours later both the quaint little bedroom trash containers are full of beer cans, and the two of us are arms around shoulders, singing at the top of our lungs. Our musical fare has been modern country western music with offerings from the likes of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Brooks and Dunn, and of course the Outlaws, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash. My treat to Bernice, myself and the Big Music Machine, a cultural lube job for all of us.
Bernice: Oh hear it comes again. Our favorite. (Bernice belts out the lyrics in a Dylanesque style, under cutting the high notes, and raising the low notes an octave so she can get at ’em.) Come on babe, here comes the chorus:
“Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such…”
Sign of the times
Coming home to Bernice was always a treat. Always that effusive, crooked smile, a hug and some conversation. Plus I never tired of playing with the garage door opener. Usually I would cruise down the drive path in front of her place and hook a left into the garage I had already opened three blocks ago. Rarely did I glance to my right to observe the ornamental front yard.
In fact, the only time I remember making this glance was on a snowy day in December, 1995. As I hooked my left I glanced right and caught site of something sticking up in the yard. It was like suddenly getting a speck of dirt in your eye. You have to do something about it before you can can complete your routine. So instead of entering the house I walked around to the front yard to investigate.
Prior to this day I could have counted on one hand the events in my life that had totally upset my apple cart. What I saw upgraded the speck in my eye to a clod and informed me that from this day forward I would need two hands to count my major upsets. The Klu Klux Klan could not have struck a more fearsome symbol in that yard.
In my preoccupation with the speck in my eye that had become a dagger in my heart, I hadn’t noticed that Bernice’s sporty two door, white Honda Civic was nestled into its side of
the garage. That meant that Bernice would most likely be waiting for me in the kitchen which is where we would wind down from our workdays. In my blackened mood I thought it a good thing that Bernice was doing the greeting on this night. If I had been home first our string of greeting smiles would have been severely frayed if not broken.
Bernice: Hey there stranger. Welcome home. (That wide, crooked, heart rending smile)
Bernice: Hey? What’s up, babe?
Garry: I don’t know. You tell me.
Bernice: Nothing to tell here. Come over here. Give me my kiss and tell me what’s on your mind.
Garry: I think it’s more like, ‘What’s on your mind?’
(I’m leaning against the door frame.)
Bernice: I don’t like the sounds of this. You better come sit down.
(This is where often the one arriving would swoop in, playfully sit on the other’s lap, pull a face and grab a kiss. On my way to my chair I did none of the above.)
Garry: So when were you going to tell me?
Bernice: When was I going to tell you what?
Garry: I can’t believe I’m the one who has to bring this up. You’re the one who planted the (___ing ) sign in the yard.
Bernice: Oh, you saw the sign? Yeah, I put it out this morning. I guess you already left for work. Didn’t get any calls though.
Garry: So you were going to just up and sell the house without even telling me?
Bernice: What are you so upset about?
Garry: I’m upset you’re making some kind of major move here, and you didn’t bother to tell me about it.
Bernice: I did tell you about it. I’ve been telling you all along. Ok, maybe not lately.
Garry: How could you have told me if I don’t remember anything about it?
Bernice: Maybe you just don’t pay attention to things I tell you.
Garry: I pay attention. Maybe you think you say things you don’t say.
Bernice: Maybe you think you hear things you don’t hear. (with the patience of Job) I started telling you when we first got together.
Garry: (losing patience) Telling me what?
Bernice: I told you that when I retired I wanted to move to Phoenix and live in the Anasazi complex where Ellie lives. I know I’ve told you I bought a couple of units there.
Garry: You told me you were going to move to Phoenix?
Bernice: Yes, after I retired.
Garry: You retired a month ago.
Bernice: And I figured it’s about time to get a move on. I have to sell this place, maybe have an estate auction, and we have to find an apartment to live in if I sell before summer.
Garry: So you’re selling the house and we’re looking for an apartment? I know you didn’t tell me that.
Bernice: You really don’t remember my telling you what I planned to do when I retired?
Garry: Yeah, well maybe but that was a long time ago and you never said for sure. I don’t remember any updates.
Bernice: I updated. Sometimes you only hear what you want to hear.
Garry: Maybe so, but I swear I didn’t see this coming.
Bernice: I believe you. I get it now, why you’re so upset. We probably should have talked about it more.
Garry: Well we’re talking now, so let me see if I got this straight. You’re selling this place and you and me are going to find an apartment together.
Garry: So what about Phoenix? Are you going alone or am I coming with you?
Bernice: That part’s up to you, babe.