Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Happy Happy

Today marks 10 years of marriage for me and the wife, which, given some of the insane obstacles we've faced, is pretty remarkable. Even more remarkable is how she's endured all my bullshit and dark moods over the years. Came across a home vid recently from when we were living in NY, and I look absolutely nuts. I was in the deepest bowels of writing "Mr. Mike," and the years of direct exposure to Michael O'Donoghue's life can be instantly read on my face. I barely recognize myself from that time, but it's clear that I was not in a happy place.

"How the hell did you put up with that jerk?" I asked her.

She sighed. "Wasn't easy. You were so far into that book that I hardly knew you."

True. Tip: if you must write a bio, try to avoid one of the darkest American humorists ever. You may not survive.

"Didn't matter," she added. "I love you."

If, as the cynics insist, love is but a strange combo of chemical attraction and emotional delusion, then I happily and peacefully surrender to the irrational. For in the end, love's pretty much what it's all about, yes? And how lucky and blessed am I to have found someone who loves so unconditionally -- well, unless the dishes aren't washed and the bathrooms teem with grit. Then all bets are off.

Today is also my father-in-law's 78th birthday. Conn Bauer is one of the toughest yet sweetest men I've ever known. Over the past few years he's battled cancer and suffered an enlarged heart, in addition to the cruelties of aging, but the old boy keeps plugging along and refuses to buckle. He reminds me of DeNiro's Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull" -- no matter how hard he's pummeled, he never goes down. In time, we all do and must, but when Conn's time comes, it'll be on his terms and at his pace.

Recently, Conn and wife Clare visited us from San Diego where they currently live. They brought along some home movies from the late-1930s and 1940s, transferred to DVD. The picture quality was superb. There was Conn, around 11-12 years old, working on his family's Idaho farm. Mother, father, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles are all there, no television, computers or cell phones to distract them, chatting, laughing, romping through a mid-summer dusk under tree branches gently swaying in the breeze. Another world. A different mindset. The years pass from black and white into color. The movies take us on the road, through Midwestern cities and rural expanse. No strip malls. No interstates. A small Sunoco filling station. Roadside diners. Metal drugstore signs. Ads painted on the sides of brown brick buildings, now faded if still present, but then bright and bursting with reds, greens and golds. It's the America that Thomas Wolfe described and Jack Kerouac romanticized and mourned. For us, it lives only on a thin silver disc.

I truly enjoy the pop culture from that period, and Conn, Clare and I can talk about radio comedies, old movie stars and big bands for hours. When we do, oftentimes with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman or Louis Armstrong playing in the background, I get a brief sense of what the pace of that time must have been like. No rush. Easy does it. Want another beer? Now what was I saying . . .

Nice. In many ways far preferable to today's crush and madness (though, obviously, I'll take today's medical advances over what was known back then). When Conn and Clare visit, the wife, kids and I tap into their casual vibe. We sit, chat. The wife plays piano and my daughter sings the songs of their youth. They beam. Everyone connects. For a moment you sort of understand what this existence might actually mean. And to the degree that you do, it's glorious and enriching.

So Happy Birthday Conn, and Happy Anniversary, doll. I love you both.