This idea of couples dating has always fascinated me. When I was married, my husband and I did it. It seems that anytime we find someone we want to share our life with, the first thing we do is find people we can ignore them for.
My parents did the same thing. When I was four and my sister a year-old, I remember this one couple that used to visit my parents regularly. Howard and Mona. Why I remember this from age four, I’ll never know. Perhaps it’s the peculiar way my parents began to behave once they had all become good friends and had a standing weekly “date”. I don’t know--maybe my parents were afraid of commitment.
Howard had dark hair and wore Buddy Holly glasses and checkered pants--a fashionista apparently light-years ahead of his time. Even at four, I knew that man was just one science experiment away from re-discovering gravity. He worked with my dad in the local machine shop, so it was a natural progression that they would begin to socialise with their wives. And at first, my mother liked Mona.
She was different. She had masses of dark hair piled on top her head in these neat little adobe mounds. She, too, wore glasses and liked to wear bright red lipstick. I won’t comment on her wardrobe, because...well, this was the sixties. Everyone was always so busy getting cancer, developing a life-long gambling addiction and doing the Twist that they had no time for important social issues like Politics, becoming obscenely wealthy, or how to properly dress themselves.
My mother loved playing the hostess, because that’s what you did in the sixties, and why not? Dad didn’t want her working. Little did she know this would prepare her for marathon sessions of Oprah thirty-years later. She turned out to be a natural. She’d always start fussing early Monday afternoon about the house. Each time I’d question her on this ritual, she’d say something wise like, “If the Pope were visiting, you wouldn’t want him to see your naked Barbie Doll on the floor, now, would you?” Which was stupid since I was pretty sure we weren’t Catholic. Then after the toys were put away, she’d scurry from the refrigerator to the stove, worrying over what hors d'oeuvres to serve, but not before she’d had my dad’s dinner planned down to the last Brussels sprout. And everyone thinks Martha Stewart invented domestic science. As I look back on it, I thought that’s how all women behaved. But years later, it would again be my mother who would prove me wrong. In the sixties she cooked dinner, vacuumed the house in heels, and obeyed my dad. In the seventies, she found women’s lib, discovered the joys of TV dinners and you were lucky if she ever put on her pants to answer the door.
But back to Howard and Mona. They loved to come over each Monday night and play Rook and Canasta--games I would later learn were the favourites of people who were generally just one day from death. I guess it’s some unwritten requisite of God’s: If you’re over sixty, then you must learn Canasta. Saint Peter mans the Pearly-Gates with a list of our running scores, according to my grandmother.
My parents gladly invited them each week. I guess it gave dad something to look forward to other than my mother’s bitching about diapers and laundry, and it gave her something to look forward to other than dad’s belching and scratching.
Howard would tell really stupid jokes in between trying to sell my dad Amway, and Mona had a very theatrical laugh--the one that reaches the back balcony even when you’re in a closet. It took the hair off a couple of my sweaters. For the most part, these two twenty-somethings were pretty cool.
But in all this bliss, Howard and Mona had a dark side. After months of dating, my parents began acting strange when Howard dropped hints for their weekly cards invitation.
I remember one time in particular, my parents had decided they didn’t want to see them anymore. When I asked them why, I was met with stutters, grunts and whistles to the effect of, “Well, it has to do with the mean, not average, vis-a-vis the vagaries and political curves of the gross national product and what time it was yesterday over the international dateline, but not what time yesterday’s time was, what it will be during tomorrow’s yesterday.” I was four. I just sucked my thumb and made a mental note to short-sheet God’s bed for dumping me into this family. And to seal the deal that we wouldn’t “be home” that night, dad pulled our Dodge Dart (yes, I’m serious) to the back of the house and parked it in the garage, which at four, I thought absolutely genius. However, in all my dad’s dazzling spy-brilliance, he forgot this particular garage door had a row of square windows--anyone could see in.
My parents's feelings must have had something to do with the fact that every time she was in my mother’s living room, Mona would sit and rip up tissues, then toss them on the floor. They weren’t used tissue--all the time--just tissue. She never apologised for this peculiar habit, and as far as I can remember, she never once offered to help my mother clean them up before they left. At the end of the night that living room floor rivaled DC’s cherry blossoms in spring.
Everything came to a ridiculous head one night at six-thirty. Thinking we wouldn’t be dealing with Howard and Mona that week, we were sitting at the kitchen table finishing dinner, when suddenly dad slammed down his fork and said, “Oh my God, they’re here.”
My mother said, “What are you talking about?”
“They’re here! Howard and Mona just pulled into the driveway.”
“WHAT?” I’d never heard my mother quack like a duck before. “What are we going to do?”
“Well, let’s just sit here and let them knock. When they don’t see the car in the driveway, they’ll realise we’re not at home and leave.”
I’ll say one thing: Howard and Mona were tenacious little buggers. He knocked on that front door like he had a hammer and a license to mine for diamonds. Finally after five-minutes of pounding, we collectively breathed a sigh of relief when their car door slammed.
“Great. They’re leaving,” dad said.
Oh, but life is cruel. Instead of leaving, they got into the car and pulled it round back. Dad was peeking out the kitchen window, overlooking the back driveway and saw Howard walk to the garage door where he then saw the car. I remember feeling like Jason Bourne, because dad had shushed the lot of us so Howard wouldn’t hear us from the garage door.
This time Howard got into his car to leave, but with my dad being a sharp one, anticipated Howard’s next move. Since Howard knew we were home, dad ordered us into the bathroom down the hall. It was a good thing, too, because just a few minutes later, I developed a good case of the trots (my Gerber, you see) and needed to avail myself of my training chair. As my parents were cursing the broken condom that had created me--their little bundle of...joy, Howard AND Mona were on the back porch, peeking into the kitchen window. We could hear them from our stake-out post in the bathroom.
Why is it you go by for months, then suddenly get the urge to laugh at the most inopportune time? Like during a gynecological exam? Once I started to giggle, it spread like a virus and soon both my parents were cackling like idiots, but in hushed tones. Suddenly we were a room full of Muttleys.
The next morning, my dad, never a dancer before, was tap-dancing like he was Savion Glover's understudy in Bring In ‘Da Noise when he told Howard I had become ill and needed the hospital, and instead of driving he called one of our friends to drive us over. Yeah, Howard bought it. Desperation will do strange things to your mind when you’re being dumped.
Howard and Mona never wanted to play cards much again after that, and my parents did eventually get back into another relationship, but it was years later before they were ready to open up their hearts again.
Just about the time my dad started selling Amway.