Sunday, December 12, 2010

Happy 39th anniversary to my wife,
who won't read this

. . . Later I married Marilyn Cafarelli. Marilyn’s father, Joe, was a non-church-going Catholic Italian. Her mother, Sally, was Jewish. That makes a good combination, even if it’s not strictly kosher.

Sally’s culinary repertoire was multi-ethnic. She served luscious lasagna, perfect pasta “fazool” (pasta fagiole) and spaghetti sauce with sausage and pork chops in it, as well as magnificent chopped liver, chicken soup, latkes (potato pancakes) and stuffed cabbage—but not all at the same meal.

Sally’s kitchen was a wonderful place for a gourmand like me and her cooking probably helped Marilyn induce me to pop the question.

In August, 1971 we were introduced by Jill, who worked with her in New York and who used to live across the street from me in New Haven. Marilyn was tired from unpacking after moving from the Bronx to Manhattan and fell asleep the first time we met—not a strong testimony to my conversational abilities—but I was strongly attracted even before I had tasted Sally’s cooking.

Marilyn and I were both dating a few others at the time. My social calendar was full and I waited about a month before calling her, but I passed the word via Jill that I was interested and I eventually called her. She thought her falling asleep had turned me off, but I’m a napper, too, and it didn’t bother me. We started dating regularly, and, by October or November, we planned a quick marriage in December. It seems ridiculous now. It probably was ridiculous then.

If we had known each other longer, we probably would not have gotten married. We argued a lot (and we still do). At one time, we considered canceling the wedding, but one of us said (and I don’t remember who said it), “What the hell, the invitations have already gone out, so let’s do it.”

I no longer remember why it was planned so soon, but she wasn’t pregnant.

I do know we got a good deal from a caterer who had a cancellation on the date we picked, so maybe that was an influence. We probably also saved on taxes by marrying by the end of the year. Maybe we were just extremely in love and wanted to get married ASAP. That’s a good reason.

Marilyn’s cousin, Manny, was a printer, and he offered us free invitations as a present. Unfortunately, they were printed with my father’s given name—that few people would recognize—instead of his well-known nickname. When Manny reprinted them, he got Pop’s name right, but he printed the wrong year.

We didn’t want to ask Manny for a third freebie or insult him by taking our business elsewhere. (He kept a gun strapped to his ankle and I used to refer to him as Mafia Manny although I had no real knowledge that he was in the mob.) The wedding date was rapidly approaching, so my future mother-in-law used a pen to correct the year on each invitation. It wasn’t elegant—in fact, it looked like shit—but it was definitely a rare collector’s item.

Unfortunately, the printing was just the first in a series of nuptial fuckups.

Depending on whom you ask, the wedding was either very nice, OK or terrible. The photographer was a tyrant and made Marilyn cry while posing for pictures. And while he had us posing for pictures, we missed what were said to be the best latkes (potato pancakes) in the world—even better than Sally’s home¬made latkes.

Marilyn’s Aunt Hilda (Mafia Manny’s mother-in law) complained because there were no cigarettes on the dining tables, fomenting loud disagreement over whether it was the responsibility of the bride’s family or the groom’s family to finance the wedding guests’ lung cancer.

Marilyn had designed her own wedding gown and, on the day of the wedding, she realized that it was not the right decision to have a vertical seam down the center. It was too late to change.

When we went to cut the cake, the two of us applied all of our power to the ceremonial knife. We tried slicing, sawing, stabbing, pressing and poking, but we just could not penetrate the icing on the beautiful triple-decker. We wondered if the cake was frozen or if we were victims of a joke.

After what seemed like hours of snickering from the guests, the catering manager came out of the kitchen and whispered a little secret to us.

Apparently someone had neglected to tell us that this gorgeous cake was a wood and plaster fake and we were supposed to just make believe to cut it while everyone sings “The bride cuts the cake, the groom cuts the cake . . . .” The servers had a sheet cake in the kitchen already cut and ready to roll out and serve to the guests.

About a month after the ceremony, the photo studio delivered the wedding album with Marilyn’s name spelled wrong on the cover. They eventually provided a corrected replacement, but in 39 years we have not been motivated to switch the covers. I’m not sure if we’re too busy, too lazy or just sentimental. More likely, we just don’t care anymore.

We got some really nice wedding gifts, but the one I liked best was a bunch of McDonald’s gift certificates that Ken Irsay gave us. It’s easy to spend money. It’s harder to make me smile. Jill, the woman who introduced us, stiffed us. Maybe she felt that introducing us was a sufficient gift. Maybe so, but a toaster would have been useful, too.

Marilyn did not approve of my eating habits. She promised to make me homemade soup every day of our married life if I’d give up eating canned Campbell’s soup.

We got married on December 12, 1971, and she’s already made enough homemade soup to take us through January 8, 1972. That’s lunchtime, not supper.

Marilyn is an excellent cook who hates to cook. I would be a lot less frustrated if she was a lousy cook.

She does a great job microwaving the contents of doggy bags and ordering meals to be delivered, but there’s no one in the world who can make a better roast chicken or turkey. Not only do they taste delicious, but they look good enough to be on the cover of Good Housekeeping.

Marilyn can’t resist a bargain at the supermarket and our freezers periodically fill up with large, plastic-wrapped carcasses, bigger than bowling balls. Unfortunately, she seems to give away more frozen poultry than she defrosts, cooks and feeds to me.

Despite abundant and consistent negative reviews, Marilyn insisted on buying a particular $7,000 professional style stove because of the way it looked. On a good day, we’re lucky if two of its six burners work. I would have been happier if she hung up a pretty picture of the $7,000 failure and bought a bunch of $1.59 cans of Sterno that can be reliably ignited with a match.

Marilyn has trouble deciding anything and is constantly replaying decisions made years and even decades ago. Her most common phrase is, “Maybe I shoulda got.” Marilyn is always looking back, but I never look back, except when I’m driving.

Our first house could have been carpeted with the little carpet samples she collected. Our second house has wooden floors because Marilyn couldn’t pick carpet for it.

Big decisions, like picking a house or a car or a husband, come much easier than the little ones, like picking carpet color or deciding on coleslaw versus string beans.

If Marilyn asks for help making a decision, I give her a very quick answer, knowing that it doesn’t matter what I say because she’ll soon change her mind anyway.

Our “regular” waiters have learned to wait a few minutes before telling the chef what to prepare for her because there’s a good chance that Marilyn will soon run into the restaurant kitchen to change her order—maybe even twice.

In 1971, our hair colors matched better than our personalities did.

We disagree on almost everything, and Marilyn and I have been happily at war since 1971.

Her difficulty in deciding and her extreme cautiousness and paranoia can be very frustrating and terribly time-wasting. I grew up in a family where, if you weren’t ten minutes early, you were late. I often refer to Marilyn as “my late wife” and I’m sure she’ll be late for her own funeral.

I know that she really means the best for us and I love her for it—and in spite of it. She’s kept me out of trouble many times. Marilyn is my second-guesser, my censor and my conscience.

Marilyn sometimes says she wishes she could be fearless like me, but it’s probably better that she’s not like me. Opposites attract. But two of me could be in jail—or maybe dead.

Our friends who seemed to get along perfectly well got divorced long, long ago. Apparently they just didn’t care enough to fight.


ADVICE FOR A LESS-UNHAPPY MARRIAGE

Michael’s Alternate Victory Plan:

  1. Forget about compromise decisions. If one of you wants black walls in a room and one of you wants white walls, and you get gray walls, neither of you will have what you want. You’ll both be pissed off when you enter the room.
  2. Try alternate victories. Let your mate make some unilateral decisions, and try to ignore the paint, carpet, car, vacation desti¬nation and furniture that you hate. Then you make some uni¬lateral decisions, and you’ll get to enjoy your personal victories.
  3. Overall, life together will be a compromise, and that’s nice.
Warning: My alternate victory plan doesn’t apply to everything. It’s probably best that you agree on the city and the house you live in and on kids’ names. My father let my mother pick my middle name. I hated the name for many years and I wish he didn’t give in.

Three in a bed (sort of)
The “why I married your aunt” chapter

When my income at Rolling Stone was reduced from a salary of $400 per week to a freelancer’s fee of $75 every two weeks, I was seriously dating three young ladies.

Actually, it was more than dating. I was auditioning potential wives: Marilyn, Virginia, and I forgot the third one’s name. I do remember that she lived in Brooklyn and she had a southern accent.

Number Three got pregnant by someone else and had a painful abortion. She recuperated in my apartment. I was a very good friend.

Anyway, for a normal bachelor in Manhattan, a drop of over 80% in income would make a serious impact on dating. But things are different for a journalist with abundant freeloading options.

There were plenty of ways to have free dates.

Writers and editors and their companions could go to free movies and concerts just by requesting “review tickets.” There was even plenty of free food at lavish press conferences and sometimes invitations to check out new restaurants and bars.

Even without an invitation, it was easy to crash an event with a free meal at the New York Coliseum or a hotel by wearing a badge from some previous event or showing a press ID or a business card.

The gatekeepers would never risk offending a member of the press, even someone with dubious credentials who was not on the invitation list. The cost of food and booze was minimal compared with the po-tential benefit of positive press coverage or the risk of negative coverage after turning someone away.

As for gifts, there were always trinkets from trade shows and press conferences, free samples, and plenty of free records and tapes sent to us to review.

When my wife-audition process had narrowed to the three leading contenders, I needed a tie-breaker, and my Marilyn was the only one of final trio who was willing to sleep with me and with Long John Nebel.

No, I’m not talking about a Ménage à trois with three living people in the bed. Long John Nebel did a late-night talk radio show, and I like to sleep with the radio on.

Fortunately, Marilyn accepted me and didn’t object to John, and she didn’t ask how much money I was making.

Even in 1971, $37.50 per week didn’t go very far.

1971 was a time of granny gowns, granny glasses, going bra-less and anti-materialism, and it never occurred to Marilyn to ask about my salary. Besides, she had a real job with a decent salary. I knew how much she made.

Marilyn swears that, if she ever remarries, she’ll demand to see the next guy’s paycheck and previous year’s tax return before she says, “I do.”

Anti-material Marilyn didn’t want an engagement ring but she later changed her mind and I gave her a diamond ring on our fourth anniversary. Her mother complained that the stone was cloudy.

Marilyn and I are still together after 39 years, and the radio is still on all night. There is a third real live body in our bed now, but he’s a golden retriever.

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