It all Began at . . .
Chuck E. Cheese’s was the site of the blind date.
I had no idea, as I walked down the steps of City Hall back to my car on my first full day living back in Lodi after having been gone for several years, that a woman I shall call “D1,” a high school classmate, happened to drive down the street and see me. She went home, called my mother, and inquired if indeed that was me. My mother gave her my new phone number, she called, and we decided to have drinks one night after work. We were not particularly close, but we would go out for a drink three or four times per year.
A couple of years went by . . .
D1 said she was very unhappy in her marriage (to a guy with with whom I had played in a rock band at church and gone on one date in high school). She decided to “take a break” for a week or so during which she planned to check into a hotel to “think” about the marriage, her life and the decisions she needed to make.
The very first night of her break, however, she called and asked me to meet her for a margarita. I agreed. As we were talking, she announced that she wanted to see her boyfriend, so she was going to call and ask him to join us.
“Swell,” I thought to myself, as I instantly understood why she was unhappy and supposed to be in a hotel room alone thinking rather than at home with her husband and son. I could have gone home then, but I confess that I was curious about the boyfriend.
And I was only half-serious when I said, “Well, tell him to bring a friend because I don’t want to sit here watching the two of you suck face.” She came back from the pay phone (no cell phones yet) and announced that her boyfriend, “D2,” would be joining us shortly.
“He’s bringing his ex-brother-in-law, Bob. He says Bob’s a real nice guy and thinks you two might hit it off.”
I figured that I could carry on a conversation with anyone, even a stranger named Bob, for an hour or so. It was Monday night and I had the perfect excuse for leaving early if he turned out to be a loser — I had to be at work by 8:00 a.m. the next morning.
In a little while, D1 was introducing me to D2. When I looked at the guy with him and said, “Oh, you must be Bob,” D2 explained that Bob did not feel like going out that evening, so “R” had accompanied him instead.
A few weeks later, D1 left her husband and began seeing D2 regularly and openly. One Friday night, they wanted to go out and have some fun, but it had to be a kid-friendly activity because it was D1’s weekend with her four-year-old son.
D2 called me to ask for my ideas and it was then that I jokingly asked him, “Hey, what happened to your ex-brother-in-law, Bob? You promised me Bob the nice guy. You owe me, buddy.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I forgot all about that. I was going to set you up with Bob, wasn’t I? He is a really nice guy. I just know that you two would really like each other. I’m going to see if he wants to go out with us tonight.” D2 called back and said that yes, his ex-brother-in-law, Bob, would be joining us.
At Chuck E. Cheese’s.
After he explained the rationale, I had to admit that it made sense. Pizza and beer, along with a big play area, a guy in a mouse suit, video games . . . it was a kid-friendly environment where the grown-ups could also have a reasonably good time.
So off to Chuck E. Cheese’s I went in my white v-neck sweater after I let my friend, Cindy, apply hootchy-mama makeup for me. I had never been on a blind date or worn that much make-up before in my life.
And there was BigBob in his Levi’s and boots.
We all went back to D2’s house after dinner so that D1 could put her son to bed. I think we were planning to play cards. But D1 and D2 proceeded to get in a huge fight which, as it would turn out, was not unusual, prompting Bob to refer to them to this day as “The Bickersons.” Bob and I were standing in the kitchen, feeling awkward and trying to pretend we weren’t hearing their conversation. As we talked quietly, he suddenly grabbed me and gave me a giant bear hug.
I remember thinking, “Well, that’s a move I haven’t seen before.” But it was definitely a “love struck” moment.
He asked me if I wanted to ditch D1 and D2.
“I sure do,” I told him. “I know just the place.”
So off we went to a restaurant in the marina where my friend, Cindy-the-hootchy-mama-makeup-expert, and her band played. We had drinks, I sang “How Blue,” “Mama, He’s Crazy,” and a couple of other tunes with Cindy and the guys . . . and the rest, as they say, is history, just like D1 and D2. We saw them for the last time just a few months later. At one point, a number of years ago, I heard from my stepdaughter that they married and moved to North or South Carolina.
That was April 1985. I jokingly tell people that “Well, after that blind date, he just sort of never went home. He was lurking around my apartment so much that I figured I’d better marry him,” which I did on November 2 of that year. The church wedding was all planned and just five weeks off. Sitting here now, I can’t recall what possessed us to elope . . . isn’t that funny? It was a great idea, though, because we got married at a little wedding chapel in Meyers, which is right on the California-Nevada border. We were outside in a gazebo beside a little stream with the snow glistening up on the mountains. Just the two of us, the minister, and his wife. We used the same vows that we would use in church a few weeks later. Then we went to dinner in Old Sacramento and the gentleman at the piano bar played for us. It was very romantic. The next day, BigBob was bummed at having to take off his wedding ring and go to work with a big secret. But he did.
For the first several years of our marriage, none of our friends or family knew that we were already married by the time we came down the aisle in church and recited those same vows in front of them on December 7, 1985. Except for my brother-in-law and the best man. We had to tell them because they had bet that we couldn’t wait for the church wedding and we had to inform them that the best man won — no pun intended. I’ve also forgotten now just how much money my brother-in-law lost on that wager.
My parents found out a few years after we were married, although I never intended to tell them.
One day, they were helping me clean out some closets. As I was putting clothes into a bag destined for charity, my mother held up the mauve sweater I wore to the wedding chapel that day and asked me if I wanted to keep it.
“Of course! I got married in that sweater,” I blurted out.
Both of my parents stared at me with their mouths hanging open. So I had to show them the photos.
They were baffled. After all, they were prairie people. Practical people descended, as I jokingly tell people, from the fun couple depicted in “American Gothic.” Folks like that don’t plan a church wedding and then run off and do something so ridiculous as elope five weeks early, dontchaknow. Uffda!
My father just sat there for awhile. Finally, he asked me why we did it. I really couldn’t give him a good reason. We just did it because . . . well, it seemed like a cool thing to do.
After all, it was much more romantic in some ways than the church wedding. It was very private. And ironically, BigBob was much calmer during the initial ceremony and enjoyed it more. I’ll never forget how sweaty his hands were during the church service. In fact, that was the first and last time in all these years that I have ever known him to have sweaty palms. Later, I asked him, “What was up with that? We were already married, so why were you so nervous?” He explained that saying the words in front of everyone in such a formal setting was just unnerving for him.
As for my father, the only thing he ever said about the elopement was: “If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have rented that damn tux.” Harumph.
But I’m so glad he did. Otherwise, I would not have this very cherished photo:
After all, every girl wants to have her father walk her down the aisle. Even if she did secretly elope five weeks earlier with a guy she met on a blind date at Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Originally published February 17, 2007.