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Friday, August 5, 2016

How I Met Your Mother -- Part 1 (Re-posted with updated pic by request)

Hi, kids.

You have yet to ask about how your mother and I met. This is probably because you are of an age in which you think your mother and I are relatives. That we have always been together, and therefore destined, or forced through some bizarre ritual, to marry (which fits since Charlie and Finn often argue over who will marry Mommy and who will marry Tt).

But kids, this won't always be the case. Sometime, in the not too distant future, possibly as you face your own burgeoning adolescence, you will begin to wonder. You will wonder things like, "What makes me special?" "Where do babies come from?" "Why does the Incredible Hulk's shirt always rip to shreds, but his pants stay on?" or "Why doesn't Star stop playing so coy and just make a move on Nina already, I'm mean he sleeps over like every night, but he's totally stuck in the 'friend zone' now, right Dad?" Yes. Yes he is.

So, in honor of our 10th wedding anniversary. I decided to prepare for that one special night, some time during the winter of 2022, maybe. Maybe the electricity will have gone out. Maybe we'll be camping under the stars. Maybe we'll be holed up in a small cabinet trying to avoid the inevitable and systematic government extermination of all public school teachers. But, whatever the circumstances, kids, one of you, or all of you, in that perfect falsetto harmonizing your mother and I have been training you to perfect, will turn to me and ask , "Dad, how did you meet Mommy?" I shall draw long and slow from my corn-cob pipe, tug thoughtfully at my Rasputin beard, press my finger firmly into my neck goiter and regale you with the following tale:

The first time I laid eyes on your mother was in the Evergreen Hall lounge on the Southern side of Rowan's campus. I had been running, which even in those days was more commonly a function of being late or being chased, than of exercise. I was ten or so minutes late for my first Peer Referral and Orientation Staff (PROS, as it was called) meeting of the year. You see kids, in those bygone days, public education was well-funded, and there existed a thriving, hearty middle class able to send its off-spring off to moderately priced, state colleges. Rowan held an over-night orientation to acclimate freshmen to the campus.

They played games, ate, registered for classes, all under the watchful eye of the campus community. The liasions of this foray into the college experience were the PROS, advertised as a group of diverse, academically smart, extracurricularly involved young people, who, were, for the most part, also mostly the same, Greek-letter wearing, college partiers. Most of them, like your mother, were also very easy on the eyes. Yes kids, that was no accident. "Welcome to Rowan, here's some eye candy...oh, and don't forget to pay your housing deposit."

Oh, and kids, they also occasionally hired funny chubby guys. Accounting for me...and most of the people on staff I hung around with. Ok. All the people.

One of the many quirky traditions of that group was that returning "PROS" got to sit on couches outlying the lounge, while the "rookies," or new staff members, sat on the floor. Though I was only a sophomore, I had "made PROS" my freshmen year, and so, stepping through a valley of fifty or so "rookies," took a couch seat next to my buddy Pat MacCauley.

That's when I saw her. Among the rookies she sat, cross-legged on the floor. Her big red head. Her perpetual "hand-in-a-cookie-jar" grin. Her eyes so impossibly wide and wet and blue, like pictures of what Earth looks like from space.

"Who. Is. That?" I whispered to Pat, nodding in your mother's direction.

"You don't know Shannon Cogan?" he asked (that's Mommy). "She's a Sigma," (that's the name for the funny group of old broads your Mommy runs off with bi-annually).

"She's really cute," I said, still staring, like a creeper.

"Duh," Pat said.

Kids, I had looked at pretty girls before, from across crowded rooms even, but never like I saw your mother. She was my "Wonder Years" theme song moment (please pause here and refer to YouTube or download the entire series into your Apple iMind Insta-prehend Head-let Unit. Got it, now? Great.), complete with older Kevin Arnold, sensible interior monologue. She was brillant. Like looking up at the Empire State Building. Like sun through Saint Chappelle. Like the tumble of the Pacific on a misty morning. Like free Rita's on the first day of Spring. She was my Winnie Cooper moment. But unlike, Winnie Cooper she didn't look back at me. Not even once. Not even for a second. She didn't notice me at all.

But don't worry, kids, she would continue to not notice me for weeks to come.

It wasn't until orientation itself, later that summer, while both sneaking out of the Rowan Student Center to dodge PROS duties, that your mother and I finally talked.

It was during those little breaks in our summer job, that we found our common grounds, and what would become the basis of our friendship:

1. an unnatural obsession with the music of Pearl Jam.

2. a ridiculous sense of humor

3. the ability to talk and laugh louder and more obnoxiously than anyone who happened to share our vicinity.

I had never met anyone quite like her. When I, out of boredom, began singing Pearl Jam songs in a heavy Spanish accent, she fashioned some bongos out of stuff lying around the Student Center patio and played along. When I told innane stories about stealing pens or severing facial appendages, she'd not only laugh in full mouth uproar, but she would drag over innocent by-standers and say, "tell (random person) the story about the pen and the Indian girl" (Which reminds me, kids, when we're done here, I'll tell you the one about the pen and the Indian girl). That's the kind of girl your mother was. She drew a crowd, and if you were in that crowd, you felt it. Special, for lack of a better word. You felt like your ticket was punched. At least I always did.

Her laughter was, and still is, simply the greatest sound in the world to my ears, and through the years, I have gone to great lengths to hear it. Now, it is the background theme music to our lives, and that truth never stops making me feel like the luckiest person in the world.

That summer, kids, whenever we hung out, and it wasn't often, we had a blast. Telling stories. Teasing each other. Singing songs. Wearing sombreros through the streets of Glassboro. No, really. Sombreros. I don't know, kids. Does anyone ever remember where he found a sombrero? You just thank God you did, and move on.

Hanging with your mom was like hanging with one of the guys, except she had huge boobs. Oh, stop. They fed you all, didn't they?

But the funny thing about summer, kids. Is that it always ends. And life goes back to normal. Ask Danny Zucko. I didn't see much of your mother after that. We ran in different circle. Her, the cool, breezy, always smoothly social crowd. Me, the hazy, stodgy, always painfully awkward crowd. I was busy being an RA, serving on Student Council, running my fraternity...your mother was, you know...I'm sure she was doing something. Yet, cosmicly, throughtout that year, we had some strange run-ins.

One night, I found myself, very late, at your mother's sorority house. I went up to her room to say "hi," and we got to talking about Pearl Jam. We drank beers and reflected on lyrics. We broke apart Eddie's rock opera. We examined the entirety of the human condition through the PJ catalogue, and when we failed to find the root of man's suffering, we fell asleep. Your mom in her bed beneath her oversized, black and white poster of Eddie Vedder back to back with Jeff Ahmet, soaked in sweat, singing what we both agreed was "Alive." I, on the floor. Like a the gentleman I wanted her to think I was.

See kids, what I learned for the first time that night is that your mother is more analytical than she wants you to know. She can level you with her insights, so don't tempt her to do so just because you think she's not paying attention. She is a scary good writer and a quick thinker. She's good with words, and she'll use them for you, and she'll use them against you. I talk more than she does, but that, as you have probably figured out by now, means very little.

A month or so later, Phi Kap and Tri-Sig did a haunted house for charity in our big, beautiful, but soon to be condemned, despite its status as a historical landmark, frat house. Your mother, notoriously too cool for such high-jinx, but really scared out of her mind by this sort of Halloween thing, came over minutes before the event started. It was way after the real work had been done. She wore her sheer purple sorority jacket embroidered with the name of some other girl. Her uniform. She wore her Kool-Aid man smile. Practically a uniform. Her hair, red as the leaves, the perfect accent of a late October night.

"I only came because of you," she told me.

"Well, thank you," I said, pretending not to be impressed.

"So, what do you want me to do?"

"Wanna put on make-up? We are a few girls short in the kitchen scene. You could jump out from behind the closet."

"No thank you."

I was at a loss.

"I don't mind just hanging around. I don't like this kind of thing."

"No. I have the perfect part for you."

I stuck your mother in the upstairs bathroom with her friend. Her job was simple. Every time a tour passed by below, she was to throw her body half way out the window and scream at the top of her lungs. I was a tour guide, so I was often walking the patrons through as she did this. Every time she did it, someone screamed. And every time someone screamed, I could hear your mother giggling as we walked by.

Never forget, kids, your mother is savvy. And she does what she wants to do. You can learn alot from how she views the world. She is what she is. She doesn't look to raise anyone's expectations of her. She doesn't aim to raise eyebrows. She is happy to be as advertised. Take it or leave it. But you'll take it. And you won't like it, you'll love it. Because like me, you will be entranced by her attitude toward the proceedings, whatever they are, Haunted Houses for charity, PTA meetings, religous observances...she does what she do, and you're just happy to be leaving with her afterwards. One, because you want to be on her side. Two, because no matter how it went, she'll always buy you ice cream on the way home.

Then, there was the time we both found ourselves reluctantly participating in the "Bid for a Date" charity auction. The idea was that you walked out on stage, and the entire school could bid to win a date with you. Yup, for people who like a heaping helping of post-tramautic stress disorder with their community service. People would fight to win a date with you. Or they would not. At all.

Your mother looked amazing. Her hair was did. She wore purple. She was the last one to go that night. I was in the first half of the show. She was rife with anxiety. I had never seen her so shaken up. She was less worried about not being bid on, and more worried about "falling down or doing something stupid."

"Are you kidding?" I told her. "You're gonna be great."

But she just kept rattling on about how embarassing it was, and how her sorority always picked her to do the embarassing things because she was so loud and outgoing. When I walked away, I couldn't shake how upset she seemed. I had never seen her that way. Normally, she was so cool.

Your mother created a bidding war that night, finally going for $ your dad's friend and fraternity brother Kris Noyes. Your dad: a steal at $37.50!

That night was just a teensy lesson about the extent of your mother's propensity for worrying. She is the grand heavy weight champion of worrying, and you kids are her prize fight. She worries about you guys every second of every day. But her worry springs her into action. She has been your champion in ways you will never comprehend. She has risen to challenges she never dreamed she'd face. And why? Because your lives turned her worry into words and her words into acitons. She has a singular, focused, bug-eyed, pale faced, gray hair kind of worry that comes out of her heart and lives in her bones. It's her DNA. Don't believe me, talk to Mom Mom. She loves you big, and she rose to her greatest strength because of worry for you. She won her greatest triumphs when pushed by your potential pain or disappointment or even just your discomfort.

In the end, at "Bid for a Date," your mom was every bit as stunning, ravishing as I predicted she'd be. But up until the minute she stepped onto the stage, she was a tempest beneath her skin. She has a good, but fragile heart, your mother. I know better than anyone, but she always wins the day. Don't underestimate how capable she is of bringing in the big money, no matter how tense she seems beforehand.

Later that night, almost everyone in Glassboro headed to the Study Hall Pub. Our favorite bar was closing. I met up with your mother there. As the great old place, filled with so many memories, drew its final breaths, your mother and I snuck behind the bar. She prodded me to grab a large stack of cups with the Study Hall logo on them. She wanted a souvenir. I saw that my friends were figuring out who had room in cars to coordinate drives home. I stayed quiet in the hopes of walking home with your mother. She agreed. And though at least five different guys offered her rides, she said "no," and we found ourselves walking through the ghetto Glassboro streets with an enormous stack of plastic cups. Trying desperately to be light and cute, funny and flirtatious, I kept dropping the cups into the street. She'd howl and lunge to save them. Across the street from the stoop of the Sigma house, emboldened by drink and the momentousness of the occasion, I asked your mother if I could kiss her.

Oh, Tallulah, how sweet your "awwwhhhs" are. Charlie, how nice to offer your old man a high five. Yes, Finn, the story's almost over. Henry, are you asleep? Wait, kids, hold your applause. I didn't tell you what she said.

Your mother said "no." She said "Not tonight. Goodnight." Then she turned, crossed the street and walked in her front door.

I, with a handful of cups, by heart pounding the walls of my chest, went back to the Phi Kap house and drank. Alone. From a dying keg. I didn't see your mother the rest of that school year. And in May, she graduated.

Now, I know what you're thinking, kids. "Jeez Louise, woman, don't you want us to be BORN??!!"

But fear not, kids, for more installments await. This night has grown old now, and nuclear mist is settling in under the moon light. We must save the rest for another night. Another occasion. When you will hear tell of Cuban Opposite's Day and Margarita Wednesdays. Of residence life and Weezer. Of Nick at Nite and Jack Dawson. For now, kids, sleep tight and know your mother and I love you very much.


  1. I don't know that I could ever live up to how you see me, but I sure am lucky you love me. I've always seen myself better when looking at my reflection in your eyes. I love you.

  2. I can't say that I'm the keenest on love and marriage, but I have started reading Bag of Bones by Stephen King recently. I'm not sure if you are familiar with the story line at all, but what is important is that the main character began to notice a lot of little things are what composed his marriage, little things like saying "Well then--that's all right, isn't it?" every time he told his wife he finished a book. Not little things that anyone would notice or even a close friend would know about them, but things that only they would ever know and love. Essentially what I'm trying to say is that I noticed some things that you wrote that seemed to be like those little things. I guess seeing that this kind of love doesn't only exist in books and movies is comforting and heartwarming for me. Thank you.