“Why you want to leave me?”
I’m not leaving you. Don’t you want me to do something with my life?”
“Yes! Get married! Make babies!”
–“My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
“Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”
–Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, Motown hitmaker, oracle.
Forty years ago, I married a beauty who, like me, is of Greek ancestry. Her mom, in fact, was born in Kalamata, which accounts for my wife’s imponderable olive eyes. Coming from families of modest means, we were treated to a not-so-big fat Greek wedding. The decision suited both of us—and especially her parents, who underwrote the affair—just fine.
During the reception, in the midst of a set by the bouzouki band, my brother, the best man and under the spell of ouzo, sidled up to Mary, my wife’s famously humorless boss: “Clifford,” he said, “Mary is always mentioning that she loves you like a boss.” Clifford, in the grip of the same truth serum, was touched by his warm words.
Until further notice, our normal rhythms of life remain in suspended animation. Pandemic and presidential conventions notwithstanding, our son decided to get married on Zoom. It was something (the union, not the technology) I was praying would happen before I awoke in an assisted-living place with a dicey track record.
As I struggled to cozy up to Zoom, what resonated more than anything was how the medium inherently pried vanity loose from our DNA. I gained a deeper appreciation of what Hollywood set designers have to juggle. I was forced to take bold action. For the past four months, since the phrase “flattening the curve,” hauntingly crept into vogue, I had embraced the aura of the guy in the vacuum truck that sucks up cooking grease at Chick-fil-A.
“I’ll cut your hair,” she asserted. “Don’t you dare make an appointment at the barber shop. Too risky. We’re old.”
She, too, embarked on a voyage of discovery concerning her outer shell. To that end, she would stroll down the street to CVS, mask firmly attached and in blatant defiance of Trump, where she spent an hour, or three, fingering makeup, hair spray, blush, combs, brushes, lipstick and the contents of a Whitman sampler, all in the name of personal infrastructure refurbishment.
Before leaving on one of her little forays, she reminded me to please pick out a white dress shirt, conservative blue tie, and lay them on the bed before a quality inspection. White shirt? Really? Our daughter-in-law’s folks would mistake me for one of those fresh-face students who show up at your door during dinner, soliciting bucks to help them get to the mission field.
Fifteen minutes before ‘air time,’ my wife became panicky. Seemed she had failed to rearrange the background. We live in an old building. The kitchen has that dated but homey, “Little House on the Prairie” look–sans the pot-bellied stove. She tenderly gathered six tiny pots, each bursting with summer blooms and oregano, and lined them up along the breakfast nook behind us. Then she raced over to snatch a box of shredded wheat from atop the fridge, yanking it and the “repulsive” garbage can, before jettisoning them out of sight. Possibly into the neighboring zip code.
All things being equal, hanging out in Zoomland was amazing! We engaged (most of) our senses across two hours’ filled with lively, witty repartee. It was rewarding, too, to discover our son’s west coast family were down-to-earth. Not one confided they were only driving for Uber until the producers of a new sitcom summoned them to audition down in Hollywood.
We learned our new daughter-in-law’s sister, Phoebe, teaches history at the University of Colorado. She was relieved, she reported, having just turned in her book manuscript on the backstory of camping. Her fiance, Noah, teaches physics on the same campus in Boulder. He’s a Yale alum, who seemed way too human. If you hear he was a member of the super-secret Skull and Bones Society, keep it to yourself. I like him as he is.
So, sharing the last drops of champagne, as we settled in to finish binge watching “Shtisel” on Netflix, I asked my wife to reflect on the afternoon events.
“It was actually a pleasant surprise,” she remarked. “I was plunged into a sense of detached…intimacy. The main thing is that they stick together through the peaks and valleys.”
And I got a reprieve: Under the dorky white shirt and boring tie, I was given the all clear to wear gym shorts.
Now we know how TV news anchorpersons do it.