Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Picky Ones At the Buffet

Back in April, my wife and I had a chance to take a weekend trip. Even after selling back a bunch of PTO time, I still had a lot of vacation time left (we accumulate it very quickly in my job). Since starting my nursing job, I have regularly worked 50, 60, even 70 hour weeks. The overtime has been great, helping us retire debts left over from when I was in school, and my wife was unexpectedly unemployed. It has allowed me to pay for my son's college, and to do some nice things for my family. But my wife realized that four years of school while maintaining a full time job, then two years of crazy hours at work had left our relationship fraying at the edges. We needed some time together.

My daughter went off to New York that weekend to spend some time with her birth father, who normally doesn't spend much time with her, and my son was away at college. My wife had been looking at our options. We both love wine (specifically red wine) and thought of a weekend at one of a number of B and B's in the midwest that are in vineyards. After considering a number of options, she came up with a very cool one: the South Pier Inn, in Duluth, Minnesota. It's a hotel that's right on the canal that leads from Lake Superior to the Duluth harbor.

The canal is traversed by a bridge that is one of only a few "lift" bridges still operating in the country; when one of the thousand-foot ore carriers or other ships enters the harbor, the bridges entire span goes up. It was all amazing-- a huge iron bridge going up in the air as a huge ship passed almost silently by our room-- close enough that I could have thrown a baseball to someone on the ship. I was surprised at how quiet the ships were.

We spent some time in the hotel room drinking wine, chatting and getting to know one another again. We got out, too. We walked over to the little maritime museum nearby, where we saw, among other things, an exhibit on the Edmund Fitzgerald, of the Gordon Lightfoot song fame; it was a frequently docked in the Duluth harbor. We went downtown and visited the Electric Fetus record store, and went to the Minnesota Wine Exchange (yes, even Minnesota has some wonderful wines!)

Later, I thought about how funny it was that we'd have such a good time in a hotel room watching ships and a bridge. I thought about our marriage, relationships in general and remembered an experience I had a couple of lifetimes ago.

Back in the late nineties, I was working at a restaurant owned by Larry T., a longtime friend whom I've worked for a few times over the years. He's a big black bear of a guy-- he grew up on the south side of Chicago, and has been involved in the restaurant business about 40 years. I've worked at three of the places he's owned or co-owned over a period of about 25 years. In this case, I was working at a barbecue place he owned. He had asked me to manage a catering gig. It was an event sponsored by the "Matches" section of the Chicago Reader-- the section for people to meet people. For a set amount, the participants got a "Match" ad, got to ride in a bike ride, then there was a buffet, our part of it, at the end, where folks could meet and greet.

I took Larry's van, with the food and a couple of other employees, out to a lakefront park, where we set up and awaited the riders. Soon, they arrived, and I watched a really interesting thing unfold.

The people dismounted their bicycles, then walked up to the buffet. They began to look over the buffet we were serving. Larry, a brilliant chef, had whipped up a nice assortment of food, mindful to his target crowd; he'd even taken care to make sure there were vegan options.

I'll never forget the fussy looks on the faces of the people as they picked at the food in the chafing dishes. A couple even said "Is this all you have?" I was dumbstruck.

Then, most of them, having found something they could stomach, walked over and sat alone. They made no attempt to talk to any other person at the event. They ate their meal, and wheeled off... alone.

Nearly a decade and a half later, I still think of that day.

Around that time, I married Cynthia, my second wife. We split a few years later over children issues; she wanted kids. I, being seven years older than she, didn't want any more (I had a son from a former girlfriend). I loved her, and sometimes miss her-- we were friends before we dated and married. She was a lovely and unique person. Our circumstances just weren't going to work.

I married again, my current marriage, a few years after that. Ironically, I met her through the Matches in the Chicago Reader. While we had enough things in common to meet-- we're both extroverts, our politics are liberal, we both love red wine, music, etc.-- in the end, we also have some serious differences.  For example, she's somebody who sweats the small stuff. I don't. She frets constantly about what other people think. I don't.

In the relationships I had when I was single, I there was no "type" I dated. The women I was involved with were all over the place-- ethnicity, career, personality. And they all fascinated me. In the end, I realized that there is no "perfect person" or "type" for you; it's all about learning to appreciate the uniqueness of the person you're with and working on the day to day details of making a marriage or relationship work.

Thinking back to the delightful time I had with my wife in Duluth, and looking forward to more good times with her, I also think about those people at that buffet so long ago. They had all that wonderful food, prepared by a genius chef, laid out for them, and it still wasn't good enough. They were surrounded by other people who were expressly looking for a relationship, yet nobody was good enough. I wonder how many of them are still out there, wondering when their custom-made lover is going to magically appear, when there are so many lovely and interesting people all around them.


Pat Tillett said...

Hey there!

First off, in the first photo of you and your wife. You look JUST LIKE Christopher Walken! Seriously!

They say that there is someone out there for everybody, but I'm not so sure. Some folks are so addicted to not being pleased, that they never will be.

I'm glad to see that you are doing well.

Johnny Yen said...

Ha! I get told that a lot, believe it or not. Also, Bill Clinton!

SkylersDad said...

Glad that you got to spend some alone time with your wife!