He had it in the bag

A true tale of romance, in time for Valentine’s day…

I spent the bulk of my thirties working at the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis. The 260-room hotel was a very nice, well-run property right off the edge of downtown, and along with the usual array of business travelers and sports fans, it’s setting in a vibrant theatre and restaurant hub made us a prime locale for many a romantic getaway roses6for locals.

Ahh, romance.

A world-class schmoozer, I had mastered the art of making myself indispensable to my hotel guests. As a bellman, van driver and concierge rolled-into-one, I would greet guests, get them settled in, all while providing as much assistance as I could for needs logistical and practical: dinner suggestions and reservations combined with transportation to-and-from via one of our hotel vans were easy ways to make a special impression and cultivate great relationships with guests.

My most memorable tale of hotel romance had nothing to do with Valentine’s day; it actually began one Friday afternoon right after Labor Day.

I had just come on duty for my three-to-eleven shift when a middle-aged guy pulls up at the front door. I greet him warmly, he returns the pleasantries, we introduce ourselves and I walk-and-talk him to the front desk. There is only one clerk on duty, and she is with another guest – my ideal scenario for getting to know my guests. I ask him the purpose of his visit, which turns out to be a surprise weekend getaway for him and his wife, commemorating both their twentieth wedding anniversary, and his wife’s recent work promotion.

His pride was quite evident.

I noted that he was there by himself, in response he explained that his wife was working until five, and that he wanted to get checked in and get everything ready in the room so he could pick her up at work, then bring her right to the hotel instead of home – a big part of the surprise, as she was under the impression that they were simply going out for dinner with friends. He had gone to great lengths to set up the whole ruse and hoped she would share his excitement.

He was delighted to hear about our personalized van service. He already had dinner reservations made, so I quickly firmed up transportation to and from dinner. I also offered to drive him to pick his wife up at work downtown, but he wantedroses9 to pick her up himself and play out his scenario; she wondering all the while why they were driving a route that was not sending them toward their south Minneapolis home.

I immediately liked this guy’s style.

We went out to the man’s car and unloaded their luggage; one suitcase for each of them, the man commenting that he had his sister-in-law pack his wife’s bag, so everything she should need for a romantic weekend getaway would be in place, and would actually go together appropriately. He had obviously done his homework and seemed quite confident about it.

My kind of guy.

Along with the suitcases, I took charge of a gift-wrapped box of chocolates and a cooler filled with ice and beverages. As I loaded the last of the items on the luggage cart, the man carefully reached into the front seat and pulled out a brown shopping bag, the top rolled over neatly, and creased tightly. Handing it to me, he said simply, “Here, Mark, roses7please put this on the top – and be very careful with it. But don’t squish it!”

It was very light and I couldn’t imagine what was in it, but I held it carefully in my right hand while steadily guiding my loaded luggage cart through the lobby, onto the elevator, and up to the fourteenth floor and room 1429 – one of our two ‘honeymoon suites’ complete with whirlpool for two, elevated bed and panoramic view of the Minneapolis skyline.

I gently placed the brown paper bag on the bed, set the cooler on the floor in the corner, and the suitcases on luggage stands while he proceeded to case the joint. He was very pleased with the room and the view, and when I asked him if there was anything else I could assist him with, he looked at me sheepishly and made one of the more unique requests on record:

“Yeah, do you have a few minutes…” he paused, adding, cryptically, “…are you very artistic”?

Assuring him that, as an artist and writer, I had the expertise – though I could not imagine what I would be using it for. With an excited smile, he grabbed the bag off the bed and thrust it back into my hands. “I need your help spreading these around the room!”  I opened the bag, peered inside.roses10

It was a shopping bag full of red rose petals, harvested from his wife’s backyard garden.

The next few minutes involved some impromptu interior decorating teamwork, as we brainstormed how to scatter the rose petals for maximum visual effect. We agreed a path of petals leading from the door to the raised-bed area and a branch off path toward the hot tub was a must. The bed itself would, of course, need a liberal upholstering of red, but that clashed garishly with the teal and rust colored bedspread. My solution was to do a nice turn-down of the bedspread; the fleecy beige blanket underneath made a much less cluttered, more neutral canvas for our rose petal artistry.

It started looking pretty sharp.

roses1He then realized to his dismay that we were out of rose petals. He had wanted to save some for sprinkling in the hot tub and for…something else he had in mind but would not divulge. With disappointment, he asked if we could pick up some of what we had already scattered and redistribute them, but I had another thought: there was a florist nearby that could probably accommodate our extra-petal needs fairly cheaply. I also offered a half-joking suggestion that maybe he could even get his wife a corsage for the evening out.

He liked that idea – a lot. We went downstairs, got into a hotel van for a three-minute ride.

Hearing my telling of the guy’s story, the staff at Riverside Floral was all over this one – adding their own flourish. Ten minutes later we were on our way back to the hotel with a prom-like wrist corsage, a plastic bag full of red rose petals, and some sound advice I have kept on hand to this day: don’t put the rose petals in the hot tub until after the water had cooled a bit.

Warm water, so we were told, would just make the petals shrivel up.

An aside: the rose petal tutorial came in handy not just that night, but a few other times with other hotel guests; I had the idea, and knew where to get them.  Plus, through the years I have been roses8able to casually drop the advice into few random conversations with people looking for that little something extra in the romance department. Good information always serves a purpose.
But I digress.

We returned to the hotel, I double checked with room service to make sure the champagne the guy had arranged for with his reservation would be on ice and in the room by five; already done. He and I then said our goodbyes, and he graciously thanked me both verbally and monetarily. I then made sure I was the driver for their six-forty-five van run to the restaurant.

As curious as I had been about the bag, I was even more interested in the love interest of our story.  A few hours later…

I saw them get off the elevator and got my first glimpse at his wife. She, too was middle-aged, svelte, shoulder-length roses3blonde hair, wearing a stylish, basic black dress, hip, black pumps…and a wrist corsage she kept glancing at quizzically. The dress was simple and stylish, appropriate and definitely not in high-school-homecoming dance way, which made the corsage seem a bit whimsical. Her sister had pulled together a very nice, stylish ensemble.

The corsage drew some curious looks.

Her husband and I exchanged waves as he stopped by the desk to take care of something, and she walked over to the bell stand. She looked at me, graciously held out her hand while shaking her head and barely suppressing a smile. “And you must be Mark, the guy who helped with all of…this.” She held up her flower-bedecked left wrist, twisting it around to see it from all angles.

“Yes, ma’am. I guess I am.” I said with a smile. “And how are you this evening?”  Her husband walked by, said “It’ll be just a minute” and disappeared into the gift shop.

“Well” she said, a bit incredulously, leaning casually on the bell stand counter. “I feel a bit like I’m going to the prom. And I haven’t been to a prom in over thirty years.”  She held up her left arm again, twisting it back and forth a few times, perplexed. “I understand this part was all your idea”?

“Umm, yes, ma’am…I guess it was. With help.” I replied with a slightly embarrassed chuckle.

She shook her head, smiling. “Let’s seeeeee. You, my sister…I wonder who else is in on this?” I could only shrug in roses2honest ignorance.

To my relief, her husband emerged from the gift shop and said, “I see you’ve met Mark!”

“I have” she responded, with a chuckle. I got the impression that she was finding the whole situation a bit ridiculous, and didn’t want to hurt his feelings or ego. We got into the van, had an uneventful drive to the restaurant and I picked them up after dinner and returned them to the hotel. They were both very gracious, and he was, once again,  a very generous tipper.

At evening’s end (at least my portion of it) she had not yet mentioned the rose petals.

The next afternoon I was standing in the lobby and the wife walked up to me, greeting me warmly, and extending her hand. She seemed far more at ease than in our first meeting. She confirmed that I was scheduled to drive them downtown for shopping and sightseeing, then she thanked me for roses11helping her husband set up her surprise weekend. I asked her if everything was okay with the room and with her stay overall, if there was anything else I could do to make their stay better.

It was all I could do to not hint at anything concerning roses.

“Oh, everything is just fine” she replied, cheerfully, adding, “Last night…was… just…just…” she trailed off, seeming a bit sheepish, and at a loss for…more genteel words. “It was all wonderful. Last night was…wonderful. Everything was….”

She paused, looking at the floor, seeming a bit embarrassed, then adding with a chuckle “The wrist corsage was a bit much. And the roses in the hot tub…”

She shook her head and smiled, then sighed deeply. “And I understand you helped with sprinkling the roses, and even getting some of them”?

“Yes, ma’am. Your husband’s idea. I just helped him get some extra petals. He brought most of them with him.”

Her eyes opened wide, she shook her head ruefully and chuckled “Ohhhh, yeah. He told me all about THAT! Those rose petals were from MY garden, did he tell you that? I work hard on that garden!”

Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure where this was going. But at least she was still smiling, still shaking her head in disbelief.

“You know, I was going to deadhead those roses for fall this weekend, anyway” She paused, looked at me with mock seriousness. “If this had been in June…you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. The only flowers here would be for his funeral!”  She laughed heartily.

“So it’s okay, then”? I asked.

“Oh, It’s fine. I’m sure he deadheaded them properly”. She stood there for a moment, shaking her head again and laughing to herself. “This was just so not ‘him’ – getting my sister involved, planning a surprise weekend…rose petals…corsages…” her voice trailed off. “Crazy.”

I could not disagree.

“It’s been a really great weekend. Thank you, Mark”. She grabbed my hand gently and shook it –vigorously, warmly.

“You’re welcome. And congratulations on the promotion”.

“He told you about that, too?”

“He said it was part of the reason for the celebration along with your anniversary”.

“Wow.” Was all she could muster at that point. She seemed more than a little surprised that I had that information. She just stared at me.  “Wow” she repeated.

Her husband came off the elevator, waved, walked up to us. “Ready to head downtown”? I asked jauntily. We got in roses12the van. The whole drive there I couldn’t help from glancing at them in my rearview mirror: when they sat down, she pulled him close to her side, her arm intertwined with his, her head on his shoulder. Sitting side-by-side on the bench seat of that garish green Ford Econoline van, you may have thought I was driving a couple of Hollywood hotshots to a red carpet somewhere in a shiny black stretch.

Looking in the mirror, I knew the shoe was now on the other foot: he was the one who seemed genuinely surprised.

I, for one, was not.


‘Kids, don’t try this at home. Again.’ A Valentine vignette

We were young, we were broke….we were living in rural Iowa, for cryin’ out loud.

My roommate Jim had a girlfriend, and one Friday night he was going to impress her with a nice, home cooked meal and an evening of romance. This necessitated me finding somewhere else to be for the night, which was no problem, but his plans also included a bottle of wine to go with his home cooked feast. That was a bit of a problem.

SEE: ‘we were broke’, above.

A plan was developed to overcome both limited funds, and lack of quality and variety (fancy-schmanzyism, as the locals might say) in the local municipal liquor store wine selection. Keep in mind this was Marshalltown, Iowa 1979 – stocking both Mogen David and Boone’s Farm qualified as ‘wide selection.’ The solution to Jim’s dilemma seemed to be simple: what couldn’t be procured could be made.

I’m not really sure how the initial idea unfolded, but our plan seemed sound when concocted in our living room – ‘concocted’ being the operative word here.

Part one of our scheme was to procure the container, and Jim had a friend who worked at a nice restaurant and got Jim an empty French wine bottle – cork included.

French! Even better than Jim had hoped for – and it had the cork, to boot.

Jim cleaned out the bottle, and then we made a trip to the grocery store for the ingredients necessary for one bottle of Jim’s date-night wine; Welch’s grape juice, a bottle of vodka, a box of Alka-Seltzer tablets. And a funnel.

Returning home to our apartment, we poured a couple of small glasses of the grape juice, in varying amounts, then added the vodka. A quick sampling led us to the conclusion that a 50/50 mix was pretty close to real wine – real French wine – save for the fizz.

Sophisticated palates such as ours would know this, right?

Taking the funnel, we carefully filled the empty (French!) wine bottle half-way up with the Welch’s, and then he filled most of the remainder of the bottle with the vodka.

Jim then got a couple of packets of the Alka-Seltzer, and opened a pack of two tablets. We had to break them to get them down the neck of the bottle, and once inside they began to fizz and foam, threatening to overflow the bottle, before settling down. Two tablets didn’t seem to add enough fizz (maybe for a chintzy domestic, but not for decent French) so he ended up opening two more packets of Ala-Seltzer and repeating the procedure until our little instant-ferment seemed to fit the bill. A couple of sips convinced us both that we had hit upon the recipe for im’s night success.

Jim was able to get the cork snugly back in the bottle, and the bottle into the fridge for proper chilling. (I know what you’re thinking; red at room temperature. Not this bottle, baby!)

One bottle of Jim’s Impress-A-Chick; vintage, Thursday – under four 1979 dollars!

Jim’s date night went off without a hitch – his home cooked meal, the accompanying wine both a big hit – though their evening ended a bit earlier than he might have wished. You see the wine was cheap and easy, the girl wasn’t.


February fourteenth.

Whether you’ve been in a relationship for sixty years or twenty minutes, the day means something more than ‘Oh, it’s Tuesday, Hamburger Helper for dinner night’. Even if it is, for most of us, this particular Tuesday falling on February fourteenth, it probably better not be.

Just sayin’.

One of my favorite real-life stories of romance I played only a tangential role in, but I am willing to bet it is still being remembered or being retold by someone, somewhere, twenty-plus years after the fact.

HIMThe locale for this tale was the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis, where I worked as a bellman.  The hotel’s location on the edge of downtown made it a prime sport for romance. The fact that hotel offered shuttle bus service and van transportation within a five-mile radius of the hotel was also a nice draw – for guests and for bellmen. Guests could park their cars and party on with us as chauffeurs. The van driving part of the job not only added to the variety, it was also a prime income-generator. Add in the fact that we. as bellmen, were also the hotel’s concierge staff, and we could develop a pretty all-encompassing (and lucrative)  relationship with many of our guests.

We had a ring binder with the daily van schedule of scheduled runs (corporate clients, conventions and such) and could schedule other runs at guest request. We had three vehicles at our disposal: a twenty-five passenger bus, and two small vans – an eight passenger and a five passenger. You generally tried to schedule runs to maximize use, and keep dealing with the same guests. If you were the guy who scheduled the run, and it was during your shift, you could add your initials to indicate it was going to be your run. Otherwise, the runs were made by whoever was available when it needed to be done.

I was a bit older than most of my college-aged colleagues and I quickly mastered the art of unobtrusively making myself a constant presence in my guests stay.  Meet you at the door, help you with your bags and check- in, inquiring all along why you were here, and what I could do to make your stay easier and more enjoyable came pretty naturally to me. Oftentimes, by the time I had delivered guests and their bags amenities2to their room, I also had a dinner reservation made and the van run scheduled to get them there.

I had it going on for my clients.

One Saturday night I had some guests in town from Arizona; a mid-fiftyish couple who had grown up in the neighborhood around the hotel – before redevelopment and glitz. Returning to town for a family gathering, they had come in a few days early to revisit some old haunts and friends, and to celebrate the wife’s birthday. Meeting them on check in, I ingratiated myself (in part with my knowledge of the neighborhood as I also had family ties to the area) and by setting up their dinner reservations, and scheduling their ride to the restaurant. Inquiring about a pickup and return to the hotel afterward, they told me they would be meeting some friends after dinner for an evening of dancing, a favorite pastime of their youth, when the neighborhood featured three or four prominent places for young people to dance.

We commiserated about how those days (at least in the immediate vicinity) were long gone; the college-oriented area now was loaded with plenty of hot spots featuring live music but very little dancing. I asked where they would be headed out to dance and they said they didn’t know for sure, but their friends knew of a place where they could at least get in a few spins around the floor to music ‘they could all relate to’.

always4Somewhere along the line, as we headed upstairs to get them checked in, the husband mentioned the fact that he was looking forward to dancing with his wife to ‘their’ song: the Irving Berlin standard, ‘Always’. “You mean ‘I’ll be loving you…always’ – that ‘Always’”? I asked. “Yep” the man replied. “We danced to it on our first date at the old Marigold Ballroom, and it was the first dance at our wedding.”  His wife added a skeptical “Wherever we go, I hope they have it or know it!” We got them checked in as I promised to see them for the ride to dinner.

But first, I had some memorable-evening-planning to do. I started with our piano player.

Our compact lobby lounge had an upstairs; a balcony area overlooking the lobby. Most of the week it was quiet, many guests even unaware there was an upstairs to the bar area. But on weekend nights, the black baby grand up there was manned by Bill Duna, a music professor, and masterful pianist. Bill was very personable and musically knowledgeable, always game for serenading guests (and staff) with unusual requests: all he needed to set a scene was the song needed and a cue from me and no matter what he was playing, it would suddenly segue into whatever song it was I had requested. (This was usually accomplished with a hand gesture or billdunahead nod of some sort, and I often imagined myself as Rick Blaine to Bill’s Sam – but that is a whole other post).

Asking Bill if he knew ‘Always’ was silly; he responded with mock annoyance by simply knocking out the chorus on his ivories – punctuated with an ending flourish and a big smile.

Part one, ready to go.

That evening, when our happy couple stepped off the elevator and into the lobby, I saw them coming, and a quick “Oh, Bill”! turned a jaunty ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ into a much more melancholy and sensual ‘Always’ – causing a few lobby patrons to look around bewildered and stopping the couple dead-in-their-tracks. Puzzled, they looked all around the lobby before realizing where the piano music was coming from – above them, on the balcony. Then they looked up at Bill, smiled and waved, they both looked at me. I told them I thought since it was ‘their song’ we might as well have Bill serenade them out the door. They waved again to Bill, and I got them into the van for their ride to dinner.

Part two about to unfold.

As was our practice, before pulling away from the hotel, I grabbed the microphone of our Motorola two-way radio to informed the 124723973_vintage-motorola-motrac-fm---two-way-radio-system---w-4-operator on duty that I was out of the lobby for a bit, headed downtown to Murray’s restaurant. Only this time my report was less a procedural courtesy, more a cue to Todd, our operator that night. Todd was a college student who nicely supplemented his income as a wedding singer. I had also asked him if he knew ‘Always’ (he of course did) and if he would be willing to sing a verse or two for our guests over the radio as I drove them to dinner (how could he refuse?)

I didn’t know he’d do the entire song.

As we pulled away from the hotel, I radioed my destination, got an o.k. from Todd, said “Ten-four” and hung my mic on the little silver clip on the dash by my right knee. We had no sooner made the turn out of the driveway when the Motorola crackled to life with Todd’s A cappella baritone:

“I’llllll be loving youuuuuu, always
With a lovvvvvee that’s true, alwaysalways2

When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand
I will understand

Thinking Todd was finished, I started to apologize for the sound quality – but Todd was not finished.

“Days may not be fair, always
That’s when I’ll be there, always
Not for just an hour
Not for just a day
Not for just a year
But alllllllllways…”

The couple was laughing heartily, the husband shaking his head as we drove through downtown bingcrosbycrooningtraffic as Todd continued to croon away on the Motorola, until I keyed the microphone so his audience of two could have their applause heard back at the hotel (where, I found out upon my return, a small crowd of staff had converged in curiosity over Todd singing to my passengers).

When we arrived at Murray’s, the couple asked his name, and if they could express their thanks to Todd, and I gave them the radio mic to do so while I went around to get the door for them. As they left the van, the man pulled out his wallet, peeled off a couple of twenties and a ten, instructing me to give one twenty to Todd, the ten to Bill, and take myself out to dinner with the other twenty.

“You know” the husband said “Sitting in the back of that van with Todd singing on the radio, was like being back in high school in the back seat of my father’s Ford listening to A.M. radio. Thank you, Mark. And thank Todd, too”.motorola2

We shook hands and they headed into Murray’s for dinner, both shaking their heads and laughing at their mini-concert for two.

We were big on teamwork at the Holiday Inn.



Chivalry in an Age of Indifferent Insouciance

This post is for you romantic-wannabes – guys, I’m guessing, for the most part.  Consider this your Valentine’s Day primer; a free, on-line graduate course in pitching-and-wooing that special someone.  What can I tell you? I’m a teacher.  Read and learn from my friend Jacques.  MLL

In an age where there is sometimes a fine line separating ironic Hallmark cards and the Kama Sutra, I have discovered a modern-day Yeats lurking in my friends listing on Facebook.  ‘Jacques’ is a friend from thirty-odd years ago, a native Midwestern guy like myself; about two years back we reconnected via Facebook.  A few weeks ago during a casual, early-morning-over-coffee, back-and-forth chat session we had the following exchange concerning his new love (we’ll call her ‘Lenore’) who is actually an old love, a reconnect from a distant past.  Note that the drive he refers to is roughly 400 miles, and that the key locale in his winter adventure is Fargo, North Dakota.  I’ve been to Fargo; in the Midwest, this is as true-love as it can get.

Jacques:  I did make it to Fargo though

J&L1Me:  Ooooh….life in the fast lane…or the turn lane, maybe

Jacques:  That day it was the snow lane

Me: figures

Jacques:  Drove Minneapolis to Brainerd to Fargo to Brainerd in a blizzard

Me: yuck. What possessed you?

Jacques:  Lenore.  She had a meeting in Fargo

Me: That’ll do it!

Jacques:  I wasn’t letting her drive it aloneJ&L2

Me: Chivalry! Good call

Jacques:  Usually works

Me: True. One of the lost arts. There are not many of us left

Jacques:  Funny, was just having that discussion with Lenore

Me: The utter lack of Don Quixotes still hanging around?

Jacques:  Yeah

The typedversation (my word, no copyright) continued to the point where, while musing about potential topics for my blog, Jacques offered some examples of his recent correspondence with Lenore. Proof positive that there are, indeed, still some of us true romantics still futzing around the planet. To wit:

 My most precious Lenore:

I think by now you know that I am, deep down, a risk taker, a gambler.  Not at casinos, or in the lottery.  But with my heart.

romance4 I told you once that there were many kinds of love; the love of a friend, the love of a dog, the love of chocolate ice cream.  There is the love of a parent, a brother, and also a lover.  But then there is that one, that one love that makes the others fade in comparison – the love of THE LOVE.  It is the love of that one, true love of your life – your soul-mate,  your sunshine, your rock, your existence.  It is the one that you would die for, kill for, steal for, cheat for.  The one without whom, you cannot imagine going one day.

 In you, I believe, I truly believe, I have found that Love – my love, THE LOVE.  And, I think, I hope, I pray, that in me, you will find that too.

 But what would you risk for such love?  What would you gamble for that one, true, love – the kind of love that makes the world stop turning, and time and space cease to exist; the kind of love that blocks the sun with it’s brilliance, and hides the stars with it’s blanket of serenity; the kind of love that makes some men speechless, and charges others to write great tomes; the kind of love that makes you wish you could freeze the moment, any moment of it, forever, yet gives you the courage to move forward together.

 I don’t know what you would do or give or risk..

Now I do not know Lenore, and it has been a number of years since I have seen Jacques, but I must note here that great minds do think alike; however there are two key difference between Jacques and myself when it comes to writing romantic letters: One, he does it and I don’t anymore. Two, where I would infuse mine with irony and humor both subtle and overt, Jacques stays the legit, Casanova course:

romance5 But me?  I would give anything, risk anything, do anything, endure anything for that kind of love.  I would bear any burden – I would pass through the gates of hell, and spit in the devil’s face.  I would suffer any hardship, take on any pain, and welcome death, if I could find that kind of love for only a single day.

 Pretty bold. But wait, there’s more!

 Maybe you think I am crazy; maybe I am. But I am honest in my words, because that kind of love comes once in a lifetime.  Once in a lifetime if you are lucky.  If you are very, very lucky.  Lenore, please believe me when I say that there is nothing, nothing, nothing on this planet that is more precious, more valuable, or more sacred to me than that kind of love.

 Gallant stuff from Jacques, and to be admired.

 I am willing to risk everything for that love – for real love.  For your love.  What are you willing to risk?  You tell me you are torn, but it is not, it was not, my intention to ever have you find yourself in that position; to ever have pain or worry because of my love.  Because of your love.  Because of our love.  And so, I ask you one simple question:  What are you willing to risk?

 Sitting down at a keyboard to write these missives would be a risk in-and-of-itself for most guys.  For those of you still with me, who hope to learn from this crash-course in romantic communication…read on, MacDuff, keeping in romance1mind that Jacques and Lenore have rekindled a long-ago, youthful romance here now in middle age.

 There are numerous other examples in the correspondence Jacques so graciously shared with me. I am certainly glad that he shared this very personal material with me – and allowed me to share it with you.  A few more tidbits for those of you still taking notes at home.

 I don’t need to tell you I love you – you know that. I can’t even tell you how much, because every moment it is more than the moment before. You take my breath away when I am with you – and you steal my heart when I am not….

 …I love you. I will love you always and forever. I will love you until time itself stops. I will love you until I am no more.

 ….My love, you are the reason I live, the center of my being, the purpose for my very existence.  Until now, my life has been a series of meaningless adventures.  Adventures which brought me from point to point, day by day, until by some small miracle, I arrived once again at your door.  A door which you opened.  A door I should never have walked out of to begin with….

romance2…Let me love you as you should be loved.

…..And so it began here – the place I first set eyes on you.  I was in awe of you that day; I am still in awe of you today, for so many reasons, I can’t recount them all.  You are so beautiful, so kind, so loving, so full of God’s grace – but with an inner strength and resolution that it seems impossible, compelled by an undying devotion that endures long after it is no longer deserved.  I am so in awe of you . . .

My freshman year in college I took a class in film appreciation, and one of the notable takeaways that still resonates with me from that class is that there really no ‘endings’ to a story; that whatever concludes that portion of a story is simply the stepping off point to another story, or a continuation of the primary story. In short, there are really no endings in life simply more beginnings.  As for Jacques and Lenore, this part of the tale ends with Jacques pièce de résistance is (spoiler alert!) something you might expect.

 …I have loved you for so long, from so far away – never daring to hope or dream that one day I would again look into your eyes and see that which I now see – touch your hand and have the breath drawn from my body – kiss your lips and have time and space stand still…

Chivalry3..but I thought, until not long ago, that you were lost to me forever.   But here you are.  Lenore, let me give my life to you.  Every ounce of my strength, my love, my loyalty, my fortune, my industry – my very soul are yours from now until eternity – if you will have them.

If you are scared – know that I am terrified.  I am terrified that I will disappoint you.  I am terrified that I will let you down.  I am terrified because there is no owners manual, no user’s guide, no how-to book…

 …I am not perfect – I am far from it.  But I will spend the rest of my life trying to bring you happiness – helping you to find peace – and loving you the best way I know how – if you will have me….

Lenore – my most precious angel – I Love you so very, very much.  And I will give everything I have, I will do whatever it takes, to make you happy, if you will do me the honor, the most incredible honor, of being my wife.

chivalry1Go ahead. You know you want to.  Modern etiquette allows you to ‘awww’ over a blog post.

As I noted earlier, there is no true ending to a story, only another beginning, just a continuation on a path that has changed in composition or direction.  Life goes on, love goes on – especially a love that has returned.

Valentine’s Day is a few short weeks away.  It doesn’t matter if you are a freshman pledge or taking graduate level courses, there is an end-of-course test coming; print out, annotate and use this as your study guide and you’ll pass with flying colors.

Lenore, BTW, said yes.

C’mon. Like you didn’t see that coming.



A toast to brides and grooms and the parents that love them

June. The month of weddings. Love and romance. The month where your Facebook wall is slathered with a never-ending stream of caketopper1wedding pictures. Or, more accurately, the before-the-wedding pictures of bachelor and bachelorette party pictures. Friends getting together, celebrating brides and grooms, having final single flings, plotting pranks. There are also lots of pictures of people on their way to a wedding, bachelor or bachelorette party. So far this year, aside from some young women wearing panties as hats and a group of young men celebrating pending nuptials with some over-Freudian cigars, most of the stuff I’ve seen so far has been pretty tame.

Ahhh, romance.

Back on Valentine’s Day I wrote about two of my all-time favorite real-life love stories that I encountered during my days as a hotel bellman and manager (Flashback! https://poetluckerate.wordpress.com/2013/02/) While hotels are hotbeds of romance and romantic stories, they are also prime locales for all the things associated with weddings: ugly bridesmaid dresses, family bickering, mismatched families coming together, brides’ fathers contemplating bankruptcy from the festivities, that sort of thing.

Weddings are an odd occurrence, especially when one (or both) of the principals are from out-of-town, and two, oftentimes disparate families come together. This can make for a lot of awkwardness, one-upmanship and friction.

Or hilarity.

HIM1The Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis, where I spent much of the 1990’s working as a bellman, was a very nice fourteen-story facility right off the edge of downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota campus. This made us a prime spot for all sorts of university and student related functions.

An especially handy spot if you and your significant other are graduating from the university on one weekend, and getting married the next and neither one of you is a native of the area. One young couple had set up such a scenario so that their respective sets of parents could each make one trip, catch graduation and the wedding, and as a bonus, could spend the week between the two events bonding with one another.

Spolier alert! The four parents got along famously, but they really cemented their bond in an unexpected way at their children’s wedding reception.

bellhopAs one of the hotel’s few locally grown (and older) bellmen, I was the go-to guy for the obscure and trivial. I had been introduced to the bride and groom by the sales manager who took care of the wedding arrangements, and when the parents arrived prior to graduation, I became their hotel host/concierge/designated problem solver and logistics manager – especially once other family members began to arrive.

It was a fun week for the two fiftyish couples, profitable for me as they were all generous tippers. I finagled them some tee times, took them shopping, got them set up with a personal sightseeing tour, drive them around in the hotel van. We got to know each other very well, and by week’s end had developed a very comfortable, casual style of business.

On the Saturday of the wedding, the couple got married without a hitch at a church just off campus, before returning to the hotel for an afternoon reception and evening dance. Everything was proceeding smoothly until about an hour into the reception. The two dads, tuxedo clad with bewildered looks and shaking their heads, came to lobby seeking me out. The sought to huddle with me quietly by the bellstand. Each peeling a twenty from their wallets, they proffered them to me with the following instructions:

sgtprestonssign“Mark, we are going across the street to Sergeant Preston’s to have a drink”.

“Maybe more than one. Probably more than one”.

“We need you to bring two luggage carts back to the ballroom for the wedding gifts. Our wives will be waiting for you. But if anybody is looking for us….”


“…you have no idea where we went”.

“Unless it’s an emergency”.

“A serious, need- to-call-the-cops or something emergency”.

“And even then, only if you think someone might die”.

“Yeah. That’s the only reason you would know where we were. We clear on that”?

“Sure”. I nodded.

“Good luck, Mark”.

“Be brave”.

With that, they each gave me a ‘carry on, brave soldier’ pat on the shoulder, walked out the door headed for Sergeant Preston’s bar.

Me, I grabbed a couple of luggage carts and headed for the ballroom area at the back of the hotel. When I made the turn down the long hallway to the ballroom they were using, I could see four people standing out in the hallway across from their ballroom in animated caketopper3discussion: the bride, the groom, their respective mothers. As I got closer, I could tell there was a strong difference of opinion on…something. The bride, clearly exasperated, was plaintively admonishing both her mother and new mother-in-law that “This isn’t funny! What are we going to do”?! The two mothers, resplendent in their wedding day attire, were laughing so hard they were doubled over, hands on knees, tears streaming down their cheeks.

The groom stood off to the side of it all looking totally befuddled, declining to or not sure how  to get involved.

Seeing me approach, but with some I-don’t-think-I-want-to-get-in-the-middle-of-this caution, the two mothers began waving for me to advance.

“Oh good! Here’s Mark”! Said one, through her tears and laughter.

“You have to see this”! Added the other, also struggling to control her laughter.

They each grabbed one of my arms and walked me to the ballroom doorway. In one corner of the room stood a number of the younger guests, mostly bridesmaids and groomsmen, looking concerned and sharing comments like,“Well, who did YOU tell”? “I only told a couple of people”! “I didn’t think this many would really do it” ! Most of them seemed rather embarrassed; the bridesmaids in particular. Meanwhile, other guests were sitting at the scattered tables, eating, drinking, conversing and trying to ignore the group in the corner, most probably dying to see what would happen next.

The mother’s pointed me toward the front of the room, where a chair sat empty, but surrounded by gifts and crumbled wrapping paper – the remnants of the gift opening, a fairly common occurrence at small receptions like this.

“Look at that”! Sputtered the mom of bride, turning me toward the chair and focusing me on the stacks of gifts.

“Mother, this isn’t funny”!  repeated the bride, now with some resignation.

The mom of the groom was barely containing her laughter, which totally went for naught when she saw the look on my face as I realized what the mothers found so amusing about the assembled gifts.

They were almost all toasters.

toaster4toaster6There were two, four and six slice toasters. Ordinary, put-the-bread-in-and-push-the-lever-down toasters and high-tech gizmos with multiple darkness and texture settings. There were futuristic looking, stainless steel toasters, wide slot toasters (for ‘bagel and English muffin lovers’, according to the box). There was a twelve-slice toaster – our hotel kitchen didn’t even have a twelve-slicer. There were toasters in a variety of colors, sizes and styles, from at least ten different stores. Box upon box upon box – each containing a toaster – stacked around the bride’s chair. All toasters, all the time. And there were still some wrapped packages she had yet to open, that based on their size and shape, were probably bread roasters as well

Final tally for the day: 71 boxed gifts. 58 of them toasters.toaster5 toaster2
Final outcome as a wedding story: Priceless

As I began loading up the wedding booty for transport to the lobby, the two mothers graciously took the floor to express their appreciation of the joke, telling everyone what a wonderful memory this would be, and that while they bride and groom were off on their honeymoon, they (the moms) would return as many of the gift toasters as they could. The mom’s public appreciation of the joke broke the tense mood; the party regained its festive nature.

I brought the carts of toasters to the lobby and then retrieved the two dads from Sergeant Preston’s so they could get their rental cars from the parking ramp so I could load them with toasters. I found them sitting on adjoining stools at Preston’s bar, and they were greatly relieved to have me deliver the ‘all clear’.

As the story was related to me later in its entirety by the parents and the bride, the gift opening was going fine until about the eighth or toasterjoyninth toaster, when the bride began to suspect something afoot and a nervous buzz began going through the crowd of guests; “They haven’t opened mine yet”! “I got them a toaster, too”! and so on as the unintended scope of their practical joke became clear.  By the time the bride unveiled toaster number twenty (or eighteen, depending on the source) both the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom had to step out into the hallway to keep their composure.

Reentering the room to see the bride opening yet another toaster (number thirty or so, by most accounts) and hearing her mutter with no enthusiasm whatsoever “it’s lovely” sent the moms into uncontrollable fits of laughter, which led to the dads quietly ducking out, and then my subsequent appearance on the scene.

To her credit, by the end of the night the bride had begun to see the humor and appreciate the reactions of her mother and new mother-in-law. By the next day, before leaving on her honeymoon, she was actually retelling the story with quite a bit of elaboration and humor – including the postscript:

As the night wound down, both dads made closing toasts, in tandem and repeatedly, to the happy couple.

“Before we go, a final toast…”bravelittletoaster


“I’d like to propose a final toast…”


“Here’s a toast…”


One of the most enjoyable weddings I have ever been to. And I wasn’t even on the guest list.

Eternal spring

“You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.” – Former major leaguer & Author Jim Bouton

Life is a scorecard; an encrypted story in exotic-to-the-unwashed hieroglyphs, easily and quickly translated by those versed in the language. We can excitedly tell the detailed story.

I’ve been told – more often than I can count – to take a walk.

I have sacrificed.

Took lots of pitches and touched all the bases. Made it to a few when I probably shouldn’t have, gotten thrown out when I tried to take an extra one…often experienced the thrill of sliding in safe at home.

I have played the field and struck out in love. My ears have echoed with the cheers of the crowd and have felt the sting of their boos.I have made may share of errors.

There are times when I have been left stranded, others when I have been benched. I have been shelled, and pulled for a reliever who could close out what I started.

I have made more than a few long, slow walks back to the dugout.

Ah, but the home runs have been plentiful.

I loved the game and life – and it returned the favor far more often than it could let me down. Oh yeah, a few pennant races broke my heart – but isn’t that life in a nut shell? I’ve had good winning streaks and a few tough loses.

There have been brush-backs, bean balls and I’ve thrown and been thrown more than a few curves in my day.

Hurled a few biting changeups of my own, too. Others will tell you there are times when I’ve been a real screwball.

Sometimes I’ve had to play hardball. I have usually won.

I have been thrown out, tagged out, shut out.

I have balked.

I have loved the game – my life – it has returned the favor.

Now, the grass is greener than ever, lush and rich; the sky is always a vivid blue. In my mind I can always I feel the breeze on my face, breathe in the aroma of oiled leather, hear the distant crack of solid horsehide colliding with polished ash.

Someday I’ll be rounding third and headed for home, with someone waving me on. I’ll know then as I do now that it’s been a grand and glorious event, an extra-innings affair to remember; a ninth inning grand slam in every sense.

It’s hopefully a long time before I need to come out of the game, many years before I’ll need a curtain call to acknowledge the home crowd, tip my hat and then disappear, headed for the clubhouse to hang up my gear for the last time.

Not now, not today.

It is spring again.

Hope, potential and promise fill the air, a game has yet to be lost.

A long, blissful summer awaits. There will be highlights and losing streaks, rainouts and glorious days you’ll hope will not end. For now, the joy is in simply taking the field again.

As Ernie Banks always says, “It’s a great day to play two!”

No fine print, just a fine woman.

Nineteen years ago today, I got married. For the second time. There are all sorts of things that I could say here about getting it right this time, first time around is just practice, etcetera – but that is all very cliché – and not all that reflective of the realities of life.

I could also go the ninety-nine cent greeting card route and throw out some platitudes about ‘marrying my soul mate’ or some such, but again – cliché and not really on point.

Getting married nineteen years ago changed the course of some people’s lives, made some lives better, even created new lives that will now perpetuate and reverberate through other lives. That Saturday extravaganza and assorted hoopla pre-and-post made the world, I think, just a little bit better in the process.

At the very least, it made me better.

I met my wife Amy via a personal ad she had placed in a quaint little start-up newsprint tabloid called ‘Single World’ that was available at free newsstands at grocery and convenience stores, hotel lobbies, restaurants, bars, and – where I found my copy and eventual bride – the Laundromat in the Hi-Lake Shopping Center in south Minneapolis.

Ahh, romance before it got all high-tech and ‘matchy.’

At the time, the whole singles-ad thing was still relatively alternative in nature; meaning it was a revenue boon for the Twin Cities alternative newspapers, and were usually just listed just after the display ads for bongs and other paraphernalia and just before the display ads for strip clubs. Good for amusement purposes when hanging out with pals post-bar rush at Perkins, but nobody in my crowd saw them as viable ‘love connection’ reading

What set Single World apart from the other freebie publications of the time was that its stated mission was to be a ‘Christian singles magazine.’ Now while I never saw anything that was in contradiction to the publisher’s stated intention to deliver a high-brow, faith-oriented forum for singles, the primary nod to its Christian underpinnings was a weekly listing of events at area churches: singles dances, special interest Bible and other book studies…and a slew of self-help and twelve-step programs.

Looking for love in all the ‘My name is….’ places?

I have nothing but respect for most such organizations, but whenever I picked up a copy of Single World, I saw that the ‘Weekly calendar of singles events in the Twin Cities’ was an increasing longer alphabet soup heavy on the vowels: AA, NA, ACA, GA , OA, with the occasional TOPS and POS thrown in for good measure.

Know that I am not making fun of any of these organizations or the work that they do; I have had many friends throughout the years that have been helped by them, and the church I belonged to at the time sponsored three different AA groups and a TOPS chapter. Many weeks more than fifty such groups and their respective meeting places and times were listed – all in the name of ‘meeting other eligible singles.’

A novel approach; the antithesis of the bar-pickup scene

But the idea of utilizing that weekly listing as a ‘hangout checklist’ seemed fraught with a variety of issues for a single guy like me, not the least of which being, do I want to actively seek romance with someone who has the same neuroses as mine, or go for someone with completely different issues than my own? Plus simply going to a meeting and pretending to have whatever issue was at hand seemed at best, deceitful.

I avoided that issue entirely by just reading the personal ads.

The first ad you placed was free, so anybody could join in.  As befitting the goal of the magazine, the ads were free of anything overtly sexual, and were divided into just two categories: men seeking women and women seeking men. Aside from that, the formatting and singles language was pretty much the same as in other publications: SWF, DWM, SBM, and so on. The only other thing that set these ads apart from other locales was a predilection of many of them to note, usually as an end line, what twelve-step group(s) they belonged to.

But mostly, they were fairly benign verbal snapshots of women’s likes and dislikes, turn-ons and turn-offs. This being in Minnesota, ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’ and ten-times that many recalcitrant and reserved Scandinavians, they tended to rely heavily on ‘loves walking around lakes’ proclamations over the proverbial and Playboy-Bunnyesque ‘long walks on the beach’ shtick. Aside from that…

It being Minnesota, the ads were also abundant with ‘quiet evenings’, personal reading lists, and helpful ideas on how to spend long winter nights with that ‘special someone’ – which usually steered back toward the reading lists, with the added ‘in front of a roaring fire.’ It being Minnesota, there were also those who specified their blaze of choice; fireplace or campfire.

No, the personality types are not interchangeable. That’s another post entirely.

All in all, Single World was an entertaining read, good for a few spin-cycle chuckles every week or two. There were only a few ads that ever really enticed me; one that ended up as a lunch date at a suburban Pizza Hut, chosen, I learned only later, because it had a bus stop out front and my lunch date had some lost driver’s license issues stemming from a DUI.

The other ad I responded to with a letter led me to where I am today; very happily married for nineteen years.

The ad Amy placed was, to hear her tell it, strictly to not get left in her roommate Marla’s dating-dust in the summer of ’91. Having discovered Single World and its non-threatening nature and placed an ad, Marla’s potential for a more active social life was all the encouragement Amy needed to place her own romance classified.

Amy’s ad got my attention immediately.

While most of the ads in Single World were fairly commonplace X-and-so seeks companionship with potential for romance, the ones that went (in any way, shape, or form) outside of the basic parameters stood way out.

The ‘home teams’ thing was intriguing to be sure, but more so was the ‘friends call me a woman with a taste for the bizarre.’ In two sentences we had moved from ‘intriguing’ to ‘where’s my Crayon?’ as her ending picture request sealed the gotta-write-this-one-a-letter deal.

Suffice to say, I sent the letter (and Crayola Norman Rockewell), she got it. Phoned me on a weekend I was out of town, and left a couple of messages on my answering machine that I retrieved when I returned home that Sunday night. I called her, we clicked pretty well. We spoke again the next night, and then a third time, racking up some thirteen hours of phone conversation before meeting for our first date, at little restaurant in my neighborhood; The Lake Street Garage.

I was smitten the moment I walked in, and saw her sitting alone at the near end of the bar, nursing a Diet Coke. She was wearing khaki pants and a peach colored blouse; her long, rather curlyon-the-ends blonde hair hung down over her shoulders. She had a white headband holding her hair back from a very attractive face, and the most unique shade of blue eyes I could remember seeing.  A stunning smile….

I immediately discovered that all the cool stuff discovered in over a dozen hours of phone chat was contained in one really fine package. Still is, by-the-way, on all counts.

But the deal was sealed then and there by Amy’s opening comment to me as I walked into the Lake Street Garage. Having spent much of our phone time getting to know each other’s basic likes and dislikes, she turned my way as the bell on the back of the restaurant door announced my arrival, and I stepped inside saying “Amy?”

Her response? “Well I know why you picked THIS place – they serve Coke and not Pepsi!”

We enjoyed dinner, then a lengthy walk around the neighborhood. Stopping for a bit to rest on the vacant plastic-sling swings at Longfellow Park, we sat next to each other, swinging and talking, her hair fluttering in the breeze. Even though she went home that night and told roommate Marla, “Well, I’m sufficiently underwhelmed!” she did agree to see me again. And again.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

A couple of interesting footnotes: it took another year or so, but roommate Marla also found her husband via Single World. Oh, and Amy’s pop of choice these days is Diet Coke, not Diet Pepsi.

Nineteen years. Wow.

When we met, Amy was a social worker running a teen center in the basement of a north Minneapolis church, and I was a non-traditional college student working in the hotel business. Eventually, she moved on into the corporate world, I advanced in the hotel business, not completing college.

In the meantime, our family grew; Will was born in 1995, Sam came along in 1999, and Lindsay – who was seven when Amy and I met – remained a constant in our blended clan. Before long, I was working in social services, first at the county, then state, level (sort of the Diet Pepsi/Diet Coke thing, in reverse)while Amy’s career track trended upward, which eventually led us to relocate from the Twin Cities to Marshall, in rural southwestern Minnesota, where Amy was in corporate human resources.

While there, I eventually finished my degree, and after a round of state budget cuts eliminated my employment counseling job that I had transferred to, I joined the corporate ranks as well. During all that, the company I was working for sent me to Louisiana, to help rebuild company operations post-Katrina. While having dinner in an IHOP one night, I read a newspaper article about the TeachNOLA program, which was recruiting people from the business world to come teach and help rebuild the city.

It wasn’t an ad, it was a full-fledged article. Still, there is a certain symmetry to the scent of newsprint…

Here we are, 2011, still happily married, now teachers in New Orleans. Professionally, the most difficult thing we’ve ever tackled, but arguably the most rewarding. The boys continue to thrive, Will having made it to his second year in a high school ranked among the top thirty in the country. Sam wants to follow in his footsteps. Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, Lindsay is about to bless us with our first grandchild.

Life is good. Nineteen years and counting good. The adventure continues.

Happy anniversary to us.


Loin cloth, tuxedo;
so many moods, so few nights
we have to ourselves

Valentine Poem #5 (The Definitive Valentine Poem: for Amy)

Young and beautiful
Someday your looks will be gone
When the others turn you off
Who’ll be turnin’ you on
I will, I will, I will,
– The Captain and Tennile, Love Will Keep Us Together

We have been together twenty years
nineteen of those as husband, wife

skeptics be damned; we knew early
it would work – at least I hoped so

First sight? Yes, and most all since

Wedding sermonizing, stray advice
from grizzled old timers cautioned us;
fading rose blooms, finding common
interests as togetherness progressed

counsel heeded, time has brought us
deeper understanding, true partnership

First sight? I remember my initial
glance, the eyebrow-raising view I
got upon arrival at the restaurant we
had decided upon during pre-meeting
phone conversations; I always picture
her sitting on that end of bar stool,
turning toward the door as I entered
the neighborhood café, seeing those
blue eyes, wry smile, cunning figure

Not a difficult task: time hasn’t blurred
the picture nor does it need retouching:
a funny thing happened along the life
road called til-death –do-us –part.

I now know every inch of her intimately
marveling frequently at her Dorian Gray
routine, thankful every day for the gift

her eyes are still the most unique shade
of azure, the little lines around the edges
still crackle with a thousand stories when
she smiles; a smile that still entices
like it did that first night from a barstool

Twenty years -partners, lovers, friends to
whom a funny thing happened on the
way to happily-ever-after; not what they
told me – nothing at all like the song said

“Young and beautiful
Someday your looks will be gone
When the others turn you off
Who’ll be turnin’ you on…

She does, she does. she does…
oh, my! She still really does.

Calling my wife at work (Valentine Poem #4)

Can I take you to lunch?
May I take you upstairs?

I have only an hour
to go where I desire

to be taken – taking time
for longings, for lunch –
taking time is tempting
as you tempt me,
letting me be taken to
lunch or taken elsewhere,
always hungry

because I am always taken
with you.

The rub here is that I need
to be back in an hour – can
we make this order to go?

Call me when you get this.