Five Years Ago

Nita_picJanuary, 2008 – Nita, a girl I met through standup, posts one of those silly surveys that used to go around on MySpace. (For those of you too young to remember, before we had Facebook, we had MySpace, which was like Facebook, except it hurt your eyes.) This starts a bunch of racy messages going back and forth. I’m separated. I’ve also just broken up with my rebound girlfriend. I think, “I need to meet this girl for drinks. Maybe she knows some ladies she could introduce me to.”* We agree to meet for drinks as soon as we could find a night to do so.

February – The best night we can come up with was Valentine’s Day. I tell her I’m separated, she’s single. Why not let me spoil her for Singles Awareness Day? She accepts. Over the next couple of weeks, we spend a lot of time emailing, IMing, texting (which I hadn’t done a lot of up until I asked her out), and talking on the phone.

February 12 – I get one of those email blasts from FTD. They had a really cool special on a dozen roses, Godiva chocolates, and a stuffed animal. I spend the money.

February 14 – 10:30 AM – I get a phone call at work. I guess the flowers worked.

5PM – In and out of the shower, praying I don’t slice my neck open shaving (which I seem to do on Mondays, before job interviews, and getting ready for weddings, funerals, and public speaking engagements.) Spritz myself with a little bit of Aramis and wonder, “Do women really like this?” (No. But I got a nice umbrella out of it.) Out the door by 6:30.

6:45 – Stop for gas. Call Nita from the car, asking for the most beautiful woman in the world. Yes, that’s lame. She responds that her mom is not there. She is nervous. I don’t admit it, but I am.

7 PM – This is how you know we’re in the 21st century. I pull into the lot, call her, and ask where she is. I’ve never seen her car. She’s never seen mine. I spot her across the parking lot. We walk in together, and the waitress thinks we’ve been together for a while. We have a lovely dinner, splitting a bottle of white Zinfandel (a safe choice when you don’t know your date’s taste in wine.) She kind of looks like Marylin Monroe the way she has her hair done. I can’t believe I’m going out with this girl. She’s got a cute laugh, a beautiful smile, and I admire that she’s fiercely devoted to her son. I knew I’d be dating a lot of single moms if I dove head first into the dating pool. That she required me to respect her time with her son was a good sign. Some women don’t, or men for that matter. We all know them. Kids are impediment to dating and partying, even at our age. So while Nita was taking a chance on this strange man, she was protecting her son at the same time. No, strange man, you don’t come home with me tonight. But I will go out with you again.

February 15 – I violate the rule that says you wait 18 hours to call your date after the first date by calling her as I’m walking to work from the parking garage that morning. She invites me over to the house Friday night after I get done with a standup gig. We agree to go out Saturday night. We haven’t known each other long, and we’ve only had one date, but I’ve fallen very hard for this girl. The feeling is mutual. It takes only four months for go from new couple to newlyweds.

Valentine’s Day, 2008 remains the most important date in my life. Somehow, when I left the restaurant that night, I knew I was going to have a really good second half of my life. I haven’t looked back since.

I love you, Sweet Rose.

*She knows about this. She’s known since the first week we dated.

My First Christmas Date With Nita

2008 was the first Christmas I spent with Nita. We had some time off, so we took a day for ourselves. I wanted to photograph and write about the Krohn Conservatory’s annual Christmas display for the late, lamented My Town Monday multi-blog effort. Since the Conservatory is in Eden Park, near the city’s Mt. Adams neighborhood, we decided to make it a date day.

The Conservatory was fun. I’d only been there once in the entire time I’d lived in Cincinnati (17 years at that point). This was new. The previous weekend, we took AJ to Duke Energy (in the old CG&E Building downtown) to see the annual model train display. He practically yanked the camera out of my hands to take a few shots. This would have been a good trip for him as well, but he was in school.

The weather was something I could never get used to in this city. Growing up on the fringes of Cleveland, I was used to snow starting right after Halloween and continuing snowfall or deep freeze until the thaw hit in late March. Not so Cincinnati. Nita and I left our jackets in the car as it was 68 degrees outside.

We took a self-guided tour of the Conservatory, Nita posing for a few pictures for the blog. Then we went to see the sheep in the live nativity scene. Sheep on television and in movies are cute, white, fluffy things you just want to hug. Sheep in real life?

Yeah… Not that much different from pigs, except pigs have fine hair that doesn’t cake with mud and… well… you know. So seeing the sheep made me appreciate what a let-down being born in a manger must have been. Now take into account that the stables were often cleaner than the inns back then. (There’s a motel about 10 miles outside of Savannah, Georgia, I stayed in once that rivaled this stable. I still shudder thinking about it.) But we were there to take pictures and see the sights, so we got over the dirty sheep.

Off we went to Mt. Adams. For those of you unfamiliar with our fair city, Mt. Adams is a neighborhood that sits on a high hill overlooking downtown. Geographically and culturally, Mt. Adams is more like San Francisco than the rest of Cincinnati. They even considered it for an episode of The Real World some years back. At the very top of the hill is a monastery, which looms over a restaurant district. That was our lunch destination. We ate at a place called the Mt. Adams Bar & Grill. I pointed out that the building on the corner below us was where Clear Channel used to run several radio stations that now operate in Nita’s building where she works. I have to say the Kenwood location is probably easier to get to, but I’d miss working in this charming neighborhood if I had to leave it for a soulless office tower with a view of an unfinished shopping center.

We took a walk along St. Gregory and stopped in at the coffee place I’d often detour to some mornings. Customers were sitting outside, only a few days before Christmas.

In typical Cincinnati fashion, I had to drive out to the condo I was renting out to salt the back deck for our new tenants the very next day. The temperature dropped forty degrees overnight.

We haven’t had a date like that in a long time. It’s hard to get the time off lately, and it can get expensive. But it was our first Christmas date. You only get one of those.

Four Years Already?

In June of 2008, I left Cincinnati a single man and came back a married one. I married the former Juanita Lynn Brock in a mountain-top chapel in Tennessee as her son – now my stepson – gave her away. There was no bachelor or bachelorette party. Instead, we went white water rafting the day before the wedding.

Four years later, we are still together, endured a few crises, and watched AJ grow from a quiet middle school student to a newly minted high school grad contemplating college.

It’s been four of the happiest years of my life. I love you, Sweet Rose. You make my life worth living.

The Nitamobile

On Saturday, as I was screaming George Carlin’s seven words at the Neon while I worked on the brakes, Nita took AJ to get his license. He passed with flying colors and became a card-carrying slave to the automobile culture. His reward? We gave him Mabel, the 2003 Santa Fe that has served us well for these many years. Of course, now Nita needed a car. So she went to a dealership where a former coworker now sold. What did she get?

This is the Nitamobile, a 2011 Nissan Versa. The thing scoots like mad, though AJ found the accelerator hard to get used to. I like it, though. The brakes are a bit of a shock. Both the Santa Fe’s and the newly rejuvenated Neon’s are a bit of a soft touch. The Nitamobile’s remind me of Ford brakes. If you own a Ford built since 2000 – Well, for starters, good call. Up until about 2010, they were the only American cars worth a damn, and I still have my reservations about Chrysler. Anyway, as I discovered first with the car I inherited from my dad, then with a rented Focus in New York City, Ford brakes are quite capable of stopping the car on a dime, often at risk of sending the driver through the windshield. The Nissan’s are like that. I consider this a good thing, but damn, after four years of Dodge and Hyundai brakes, it’s a bit of a culture shock.

The Nitamobile is also the only car we own that you can plug your iPod into. Mabel, the 2003 Santa Fe, has a cassette deck that you can use with an adapter, but that sounds like crap. The Neon is too new for cassette, too old for an audio jack, and really depressing unless you want radio or CD.

So what’s with the names? Well, I used to name my cars. Some of them, anyway. There was a disposable beater phase I went through where naming the car was an exercise in futility. The car would blow a rod or seize up before the year was out, and it was off to spend another $700-1000 on something equally decrepit. But in the beginning, there was Besse, a 75 Nova that proved in the 1980’s that they didn’t build them like that anymore. There was The Bluesmobile, a rusty 1973 Buick Centurion. There was the Wintermobile, the Ford Taurus my dad drove when he died.

The Neon didn’t have a name, but while Nita was shopping for the Nissan, she dubbed the venerable old Santa Fe “Mabel,” after the old lady who owned the house before Nita bought the place nearly twenty years ago, and, we suspect, still haunts it. Mabel (the car) is old, reliable, and takes care of us. She even took us Tennessee to get married. So Mabel it is.

I decided the Neon also needed a name. The Neon hasn’t given me too much trouble – a cheap battery, brakes, a transmission line that Chrysler took its sweet time sending a replacement for – but it is temperamental. It’s very much a feminine car and has the lines of a diva. I called it Princess because it’s a whiny bitch that knows it’s cute. Never mind that similarly designed cars have more guts under the hood and handle curves better. Princess looks like a sports car and wants to be treated like one. Never mind that it’s a sedan with a spoiler.

So as Nita pulled in, there remained only one name to bestow. I looked at the car, white and cute. It reminded me of Nita’s personal avatar, Marilyn Monroe. I said, “Marilyn.” Nita said no. “Marilyn” should should be sleek and sexy. As if to prove her point, a Corvette rolled by. “That’s Marilyn,” she said. So the car became the Nitamobile. Thus it has been spoken.

It’s a rough time for us to get a car, but I keep pointing out that we have two cars getting up there in miles. Princess is over 86,000 miles and near the end of its loan. Mabel just crested 100,000 miles. AJ will be driving it mostly around here. Otherwise, he’d be driving the Nitamobile to work. We need something long term after AJ takes Mabel away.

It’s a sweet little car. And being a 2011, we’ll have it long after the loan is paid off.

Nita Ritas!

This weekend is Memorial Day, the cultural start of summer in these United States. And it wouldn’t be summer without a proper summer cocktail. So here again is the recipe for Nita Ritas, as invented by my lovely bride, Nita.

(Note: If this looks different from last year, hey, it’s our drink. We’re just letting you make one for yourself.)

Three parts Cuervo Tequila Mix

Two parts Cuervo Gold

One part secret ingredient. What’s the secret ingredient? Depends on the Nita Rita you want:

  • Jamaican Nita Rita: Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
  • Kentucky Nita Rita: Jim Beam Red Stag
  • Tennessee Nita Rita: Jack Daniels
  • Irish Nita Rita: Jameson
  • Canadian Nita Rita: Crown Royal
  • Russian Nita Rita: Vodka, preferably Gordons or Grey Goose
  • Jaeger Nita Rita: Now that’s just asking for trouble

Drink responsibly. The Nita Rita, created by my wife, the incomparable Nita.

Eighteen

That’s AJ to the left there, looking large and in charge with his percussion group from high school. Who is AJ, you ask? He’s my stepson, and today he turns 18. He’s also the main reason why I was allowed to marry his mother.

When I first found myself single again, I knew most of the women I’d go out with would have children. This was a plus, actually. I’d always wanted to be a parent, so if things worked out with a single mom, I’d be more than happy to be, at the very least, That Dude Mom Married.

I’ve talked a lot of times here about dating Nita and how rapid our romance blossomed. Nita told me on our first date that any man she dated had to meet with AJ’s approval. Since her divorce, when he was ten years old, he had stepped up to be the man of the house. I admired that. So on our second date, she introduced us. She later told me about the lead up to our first date.

AJ would be turning 14 that year, and Nita had just gotten comfortable leaving him by himself for extended periods – never overnight but for an evening or a few hours during the day. As our date approached, she worried AJ might resent her not spending time with him. He told her to go, that he had not seen her that happy in a long time. So we were already getting off to a good start, and I hadn’t even left to meet her yet.

As I started to spend more and more time at Nita’s house, one of my rituals was to spend about half an hour playing on the Wii with AJ. His father wasn’t much of a video game player, so this was new for him. Well, not really. A couple of Nita’s more serious boyfriends would play, and I absolutely sucked at it. I think he enjoyed kicking my ass. The three of us also played Rock Band together a lot. I did vocals most of the time. AJ did drums. One day, I noticed he wasn’t playing to rock band when I walked in. He had music blaring on his computer and was playing to that instead. Little did I know he would soon be playing drums in his high school marching band.

The night I proposed to his mother, it just sort of overtook us in the span of about five minutes, starting with Nita asking me to come to Gatlinburg with her and AJ for an already planned vacation and ending with me dropping to one knee and asking her to marry me. Only, I didn’t ask one person for her hand in marriage.

We called AJ into the room and told him what we planned. He ran into his room, and we were panicking. Did we scare him? Would I have to leave? We followed him into his room to make sure we hadn’t upset him. I pleaded with him to let me marry his mother and was fairly blubbering like an idiot. AJ just looked at me with that thousand-yard stare of his that can be a bit unsettling at times and slowly gave me a double thumbs-up.

AJ is a very smart kid. Like a lot of kids that smart, he knows it, which occasionally gets him into trouble. But isn’t that what being a teen all about? Nonetheless, even though I’ve only been in his life for four years now, I’m still very proud of him. AJ was an object lesson too many people who marry into families never learn: You don’t claim the title of stepparent. You have to earn it.

I’m very pleased AJ has let me be his stepdad instead of just Dude Mom Married. I can’t wait to see what he makes of his life now that he’s reached the starting line.

Flowers

The first time I ever spent the night with Nita, I stopped at a UDF (where Cincinnatians go instead of 7/11) on the way to her house. UDF used to sell single roses for a dollar. I bought one. The clerk looked at me and said, “Someone’s in a bad mood.”

“Huh?”

“What did you do to get in trouble?”

“Why am I in trouble?”

“You’re buying a flower. Why else would you buy a flower?”

By now, the clerk’s female coworker was looking at him like he was stupid. So was I.

“Um…  I’m in love?” I said.

“Oh, so you’re trying to get laid.”

“Wow. You must be a lousy boyfriend.”

The coworker told him, “You might want to quit before you dig yourself deeper.”

I’ll admit, the first time I bought Nita flowers, I wanted to impress her. The day of our first date, I sent a dozen roses to her work. Yes, they had the desired effect. Then I sent her roses at random intervals for no reason, unless it was Mother’s Day, her birthday, or Valentine’s Day. After a while, it got too expensive to order from FTD and have them sent. But Kroger sells a dozen for $10-15 a bunch. And they last for about two weeks. I now buy her flowers two or three times a month. She loves it.

When she had her wisdom teeth out recently, I had to leave her at home doped up so I could run to the grocery store to get her medications. While I was there, I spotted a bouquet of red roses. I brought them home. She was still out from the morphine drip, so I put them in a vase and arranged them. (Um… Let’s keep that part between us. They take your man card away if you can arrange roses without being a trained florist.) When she woke up that evening, the first thing she saw was a dozen roses on the coffee table.

Flowers don’t have to be expensive, but it’s a good way to remind your wife or your girlfriend that you love them. Where most men go wrong is buying flowers when something bad happens or they want something or just on special occasions. They sort of lose their symbolism that way. Because then she sees flowers from you as a sign that you screwed up or you want something or that you were just smart enough not to buy only a Hallmark card.

I buy them at random and for no particular reason. Sometimes when we’re not in a good mood towards each other. Sometimes when we can’t keep our hands off each other. Sometimes just for the helluvit. In this way, they say what they’re supposed to say.

“I love you.”

Ain’t That A Kick In The Teeth?

Nita had her wisdom teeth taken out. Like me, she waited until her 40’s to do it. Like me, she was out of commission for the weekend.

They always say you should get your wisdom teeth or tonsils out while you’re still young. In fact, I told AJ to get his wisdom teeth out before he’s 30, then he won’t have to deal with it when he has kids underfoot and work to do. However, I never really saw the wisdom in waiting until you’re older. You only do it once, and it hurts like hell no matter what.

Nita was lucky. Her surgeon had an elaborate setup where they could move sedated patients in and out on an assembly line basis while taking great pains to make patients comfortable. Since Nita is considerably smaller than me, her anesthesia lasted all day, letting her sleep most of the first day after extraction off. Mine started wearing off about three or four hours after I got home. Had I been more lucid, I’d have swallowed a dose of Vicodin* when I got home. Nita did for hers. I did not on mine. So a couple hours after I got home…

“Owwwwww!!!!”

In a panic, I took two. Don’t do that. Don’t take two Vicodin on an empty stomach. It’s no fun being doped up on morphine trying to heave cookies that aren’t there. Nita slept.

The wisdom tooth extraction diet is unappetizing. I subsisted on yogurt and pudding for two days. Nita opted for Spaghetti-O’s and queso dip. I eventually attempted a hamburger during that two-day recovery by chewing with my incisors and mashing it with my tongue. Not fun, but doable.

My doctor was different from Nita’s. He was a depressed-looking neo-hippie who didn’t take well to the humor between me and my wife while I was going under. She made a joke about my life insurance being paid up, and the doc flipped out, saying it was bad karma. My normal response to this would be, “Hey! It’s my jaw getting carved up. I’ll tell you what’s funny.” Since I had an IV of vercet in my arm, all I could manage was an eye roll. Just as Nita had to leave the room, she squeezed my hand and wished me luck. I said, “I’ll see you on the other side.” Once again, the doc got offended. I passed out from the morphine before I could say anything else.

My time as caregiver was more boring than Nita’s. This past weekend was cold and rainy. I spent it shuttling AJ to drum corps, getting groceries, making carry out runs, doing homework, and rereading Holland Bay. During my time on the recliner, Nita bought and assembled a gas grill, mowed the lawn, and re-landscaped the front of the house. I still feel like I’ve got points against me on my man card for that.

But it’s over now. It’s not likely either of us will lose our tonsils at our age, so unless we have a bad appendix between us, this type of surgery is over for us.

Unfortunately, we now have all that stuff that breaks down in old age to look forward to.

*Bill Engvall is correct. Half a Vicodin and a Bahama mama make for a wonderful morning**

** Drugs? Drugs are bad. Don’t do drugs. M’kay?

Four Valentine’s Days In A Row

This is Nita, my wife, my best friend, the love of my life. And it was four years ago today we had our first date. It was on a lark, actually. I was separated. She had just broken up with her boyfriend. I wanted to get together with her for drinks. She had a boy and didn’t want to ditch him for some guy she’d met at a standup comedy show. I understood this. Going back into the dating pool for the first time in almost two decades, I understood this. In fact, I preferred women with kids. They likely would be more responsible.

But we couldn’t meet for drinks. Not until Valentine’s Day. So I suggested she let me take her out for dinner. At worst, I would get to spoil a beautiful woman on Singles Awareness Day.

It worked out better than expected. We had our third date by the end of the week. I was staying over regularly by the end of the month. I moved in by my birthday in May, when I also proposed to her. To call this a whirlwind romance is an understatement. Our first date was in February of 2008. We married in June.

As I said, she is my best friend. Oh, we clash now and then, but it’s usually hashed out rather quickly. But everything we do is about our future. And our boy’s future. It’s a life neither of us really envisioned for ourselves. I assumed I would be a bachelor forever, drifting from city to city with no ties and no responsibilities. On the downside, that also would have meant no real reason for being.

I have never been happier in my life. Nita made me comfortable enough with myself to go back to school. She made me a parent. Or rather her son, AJ, did by accepting me as something more than “Dude mom married.” Because I went back to school, Nita took a chance and also went. It’s fun. This fall, there will be three college students under our roof. All this because we took a chance on a Valentine’s date 4 years ago today.

Nita tells me I came about at the right time in their lives. They certainly came into mine at the right time.