Happy Singles Awareness Day

jimnnitaI totally get why a lot of people hate Valentine’s Day. I really do. Every year, there’s an entire holiday devoted to love. The advertising surrounding it (is there any other reason for a holiday? It’$ the rea$on for the $ea$on.) also serves to remind those who are alone that they’re alone.

Gee, thanks. Some of us probably would have never figured that one out on our own.

But Valentine’s Day will always be special to me because, in 2008, it was my first date with Nita. We went from first date to wedding in four months, something neither of us could ever have predicted. On Valentine’s Day, I found the love of my life, started down the road to becoming a parent, gained a best friend, and met my business partner. Even after six years, I am head over heels in love with this woman.

So I don’t mind the hype around Valentine’s Day.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweet Rose. I love you.

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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.

The Compleat Kepler: Valentine’s Day

cover-smallerValentine’s Day

“Valentine’s Day” was the second Kepler story I’d ever written. It was also the second one published, having appeared in Nefarious: Tales of Mystery, which is still around after all this time.

This was an odd one. The character of Greta Rensileer came first. She was based on someone I knew from an Internet discussion group who was obsessed with William Shatner. Now, she wasn’t the only one I knew like that. I had a really good friend who started a podcast about all things Shatner that recently has added digs at Chris Pine (aka the new Captain Kirk) to its snark repertoire. However, my friend is amused by her own crush. Greta’s inspiration?

Not so much. In fact, my friend and I were discussing how creepy this person was. Casting about for new trouble to get Nick into, I thought of our mutual acquaintance and thus Greta was born. Of course, like any character inspired by a real person, they generally take on a life of their own. Greta was no exception. She bears no resemblance to my creepier Shatner-obsessed acquaintance.

I started with Shatner himself and found a photo of him online from his pre-Star Trek days. I thought he looked like Clark Gable without the mustache. I didn’t want to use Shatner himself. Kepler would likely recognize him, especially with a Star Trek-obsessed pal. So I used the description for the photo and worked from there.

Was he real? Was this person actually Sam Jameson (Trek fans will get the inside joke with that name) a living, breathing entity? As time goes by, and Nick runs into more and more brick walls, and occasionally fists, he’s not so sure. Moreover, Greta’s attention toward him becomes more and more uncomfortable. She’s a strange one, taken to doing bizarre sculpture in the nude, finding Nick’s apartment without his telling her. Nick concludes he has a stalker.

It was a fun story to write, one I sent to my friend, she of the Shatner podcast. She immediately knew who had inspired it, even if Greta was her own living, breathing person. A cruel joke? I didn’t crow about it. I generally try not to base characters on real people if I can help it. Public figures are an exception, but we only see public figures’ personas, seldom their private lives. And Greta’s inspiration? Never met her in real space. So Greta is quite likely unlike the person we saw on the Internet.

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.

The Obligatory Valentine’s Day Post

If you are one of those who hate Valentine’s Day with a passion, feel free to skip this post. In fact, I’d have to question your sanity if you continued.

Tell you what. The rest of us will wait while you go somewhere a little less depressing for the broken hearted, the lonely, and those just sick of Hallmark holidays. (No, we don’t do Sweetest Day around here, so I feel your pain. Just not today.)

Are they gone yet? Good.

I’m not unsympathetic. Three years ago, last week, as I sat in a Chicago hotel room watching the Superbowl, I was pondering my post-marital life. By the time I returned to Cincinnati, I had decided I would pitch the idea of becoming BigHugeCo’s on-site technician in Chicago. (Here’s irony for you. I now work for the guy who started up one of the stand-alone IT groups for BigHugeCo in Chicagoland.) Valentine’s Day? I’d probably spend it going over my NCAA bracket.

And then I met her. Actually, we’d met during my short career as a standup comedian. During one of those online conversations that often sprout up between people on the old MySpace (Is that even still around?), we started trading humorous barbs. Her name was Juanita, and she was a single mom. I said we ought to meet up for drinks. Nothing serious, just being social. I was so timid about dating that I half-expected to blurt out “Hey, do you know any nice girls?” (To the newly divorced/widowed/back into circulation: Only ask your married friends of the opposite sex that.) The only day we could get together was Valentine’s Day. My reasoning was that I was separated, she was alone, so why not at least have a good Valentine’s Day we’d remember.

How memorable was it?

This is Nita on our wedding day four months later. We fell that hard for each other. So Valentine’s Day will always be special to me because that’s when this woman became my lover, my best friend, and eventually my wife. It’s been an eventful three years, one in which we moved twice, suffered a couple of rough illnesses, sent our boy AJ off to Germany before promptly bringing him back when the school trip went sour, and endured both salary cuts and unemployment together. Much of what has happened to this family is usually enough to fill five or ten years. I don’t mind a bit.

Because, since three years ago today, I’ve never been happier.

I love you, Sweet Rose, with all my heart.

Valentine’s Day, 2010

Here’s why I love Valentine’s Day.  Two years ago this Sunday, I took a chance and went out with a woman I met through my aborted standup career.  Originally, it was to be purely social, meet up for drinks and, oh, did she know any nice girls?  My marriage was coming to an end, and I didn’t want to sit around the house moping.

The only day we could schedule was Valentine’s Day that year.  I said, “Look.  We’re both alone.  Let me take you out and spoil you for Valentine’s Day.  Even if it doesn’t work, we’ll both have a good time, and we won’t be sitting at home bummed out over a stupid Hallmark holiday.”

We had a wonderful dinner at Parker’s Blue Ash grill.  We had our second date the next night, where she introduced me to her son, AJ.  The next night, we had our third date.  I’ll leave the meaning of that to your imagination.

By April, I’d proposed.  By July, we were married.  By September, we’d packed up, moved to my condo, realized we hated it there, and moved back to her place.

The week before I went out with Juanita for the first time, I was sitting in a hotel room in Chicago watching the Superbowl.  I’d gone to Love Is Murder the day before and had a few drinks with friends, telling them about my suddenly new single status.  If anyone had told me the previous night or even as I watched the Superbowl that I’d be remarried by the end of summer, I’d have said they were insane.

But Nita, as I’ve come to call her, and I fell in love immediately.  The reason we were able to marry as quickly as we did without the benefit of a shotgun is complete honesty.  I explained to Nita what was going on in my life and was even up front about a couple of things many people wouldn’t admit to a new lover.  My reasoning?  It’s better to admit it and be done than to make excuses later.  She was completely honest with me, with her situation, and things she had done.

Well, if there are no secrets and you spend all your time together, a short courtship and engagement is doable.  Of course, there was a third factor, AJ.  When Nita introduced us, he was 13.  I decided right there and then that, since he would be more and more of an adult everyday I saw him, I would simply treat him like one.  I didn’t expect him to throw his arms around me and say, “You’re my new dad!”  But as long as he knew I considered him and his mother a package deal, things would work.  They’ve worked better than any of us expected.

Two years ago, I had every reason to hate Valentine’s Day.  And if you check out the blogs, Facebook, Twitter, you’ll find there are plenty of people who absolutely hate February 14, of if they like it, it’s because the Daytona 500 runs on the 14th this year.

But for me, it was the start of a new chapter for me.  And that chapter was a completely blank slate.

Happy VD!

I’ll be honest.  Up until about 1990, I’ve hated Valentine’s Day.  Prior to that, it was a constant reminder that I had no life, no job worth keeping long term, and no prospects.  And no girlfriend.  That part sucked royally.  My late teens and early twenties were, frankly, miserable.

2007 should have resumed the suckage, but that was the day the previous spouse and I closed on Rancho Winter.  Things were already unraveling by then, but getting a house proved to be a boon to both of us.  If it didn’t save the marriage, the resulting boost in credit, not to mention getting the hell out of a deteriorating apartment building, made a nice “Thanks for putting up with me for so long” present to each other.

That said, I expected 2008 to be the first of many lousy Valentine’s Days to come.  Oh, there were prospects.  And I had a decent job.  But let’s be honest.  I was in the process of dismantling my old life after almost two decades.  No matter how friendly a couple is in that process, it sucks.  Big time.

And then…

And then came Nita.  Around the time the Patriots and the Giants were preparing to remind football fans that the season ends after the Superbowl, I’d started communicating with a lady on MySpace who liked my standup work.  We’d already met briefly at a gig.  It began innocently enough.  She posted one of those surveys that everyone seems to post on MySpace.  I took the test and came up with some snarky responses.

The snarky responses became an attempt to line up schedules and see if we could meet for drinks.

By the time we figured each other’s schedule, I realized Valentine’s Day was the soonest we could get together.  I was looking for social, not a date.  But this being Valentine’s Day, I decided that a separated man and a divorced woman ought to at least spoil each other instead of watching the rest of the planet from the sidelines.

It was love at first sight.  We had three more dates that same week.  I began staying over soon after that.  Her son took to me, or at least tolerated me, surprisingly fast.  (I’m even more surprised now that I know him so well.)

Ever since my divorce became common knowledge, I got all kinds of advice on how to pick up, deal with, and (confusingly) dump women.  All of it was bad.  I simply told Nita who I was and where I was at in life.  I was honest because I didn’t know how to do anything else.

Shortly after my birthday, I dropped to my knees one Sunday night and asked her to marry me.  We married last June.

A year later?

I can’t imagine my life being any different.

Nor would I want to.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweet Rose.  I love you.

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