One Very Lucky Dog & Doris Day

Featured

Doris Day died yesterday and that’s why I’m writing this post.

I wasn’t a friend, or a member of her family; just like everybody else, I knew her from the movies.  I used to be a tour guide at Universal Studios, and I got to meet a lot of big movie stars there, from Lucille Ball (who hated it when the tour guides leaned on her Rolls Royce to talk with her) to Paul Newman (whose piercing blue eyes locked with mine one day at the studio commissary, and my knees have been weak ever since). I never had a chance to meet Doris Day on the Universal lot.  But one rainy night in Hollywood she was a good friend to me and a  beautiful Golden Retriever named, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”

Golden Retriever

It was long ago, when I was a member of a struggling group of actors who worked all day at the tours at Universal, so we could work all night (for free) performing plays at a little theater on Hollywood Boulevard.  Seven nights a week, one block down from the Weird Museum, above a toy store and Fredericks of Hollywood Sexy Lingerie, overlooking the stars of Ann Margret, Gene Barry, and James Cagney, we practiced our craft and shared the Hollywood dream.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

We returned to our lives at 11 p.m. every night, as we gathered up our cars in the parking lot off the Blvd. We seldom went for coffee, or rarely met for a drink; none of us had any money, and all of us had tourists at the studio to herd early the next morning.  But on one of these nights, after a torrential rainfall, we arrived at the parking lot to find a mud covered and frantic Golden Retriever running around wildly without a leash.  

Through the rain-slicked and mud-caked fur we could see the golden-red beauty underneath, and luckily she was a friendly canine, jumping up on us as if she immediately recognized us as the saviors she hoped us to be.

Obviously, she was lost.

Her tags were missing and so was her collar.  But she looked well-groomed, well-fed, and eager to be with people. It was late.  After 11 p.m., at a time when Hollywood Blvd. was not a place where man or beast wanted to be – all alone and with no home in sight. 

Some of us were more eager to help the dog than others, who quickly bailed into the dark of night.  But for those of us who remained (we had dwindled down to four) those heroes of that night shalled be named:  Debra Frank, Sandy Silverthorne, and Suzanne Ulett.  All four of us knew that something had to be done and we were the ones who had to do it.  

“I can’t take her home!” “i don’t have any room!” “I have a cat who will kill me!” 

We stood there as the rain started again, trying to find a way to help this poor creature, who went from actor to actor, sniffing us out, licking us, and nudging her head against our bodies as if to say, “Do something!”

It was when I reached out to pet her, and my hand came back covered in red, that I realized that all of our excuses were futile.

“She’s bleeding!” We all gasped.

There was a gash on the top of her head, and her fur was matted with blood.

Now, there was no time to discuss reasons for not getting involved. We had to do something. The dog was injured and needed to be seen by a vet.  But none of us had any money, or credit cards, for that matter.  Where would we find a vet who wouldn’t charge us?

I don’t remember who said it first, but we all agreed it was true:

“I heard that Doris Day loves animals”

Three of us were tour guides, and we probably heard that from someone at the studio.  This was in the 1970s, before animal activism had a movement named after it.  But we all knew that Doris Day would do anything to help save animals.  

We were desperate, and this dog needed help.  Just looking down into her deep brown eyes gave us the courage to do what we needed to do: We had to find Doris Day.

Never underestimate the power of out of work actors who are also tour guides.  We knew that Doris Day’s house was on the Grayline Hollywood Tours of Movie Star Homes, and a quick look at one of those Grayline tour maps showed us her address.

We were standing outside Doris Day’s gate before we knew it.  The four of us and the damsel in distress, our wounded Golden Retriever.

Beverly Hills mansions don’t let you anywhere near the front door. There are gates.  Large iron gates.  But next to those gates are little speaker boxes and a button you can push.  I pushed it.  Although I wasn’t sure what I would say.

“Yes?” squawked the box.

What words came next poured out from all of us.

“We’re a group of actors…” “We don’t have any money!” “We found this dog and she’s hurt!” “She’s bleeding!” “She’s needs a vet!” “We don’t have any money!” “We need help for this dog!”

“What?!” asked the speaker box, incredulously.

“This dog is really hurt!” “We don’t have any money.” “Can Doris Day help her?”

We just kept talking.  Hoping for help. I can’t tell you who was at the other end of that intercom system, but I’m sure whoever it was must have thought we were crazy.  Until maybe they looked out the window and saw the four of us standing outside the gate with the most beautiful dog in the world, all covered in mud.  

And then, it started to rain.

“Just a minute…” the voice said, sounding tired and a little put out by our late night visit.

We waited for what felt like forever, as the rain pelted down on us there in Beverly Hills proper. We were certain no one would ever come back and speak to us again, and that the cops were probably on their way to arrest us.

Still, we stood and waited.  Not for us.  But for our four-legged new-found friend. 

“Take the dog to the all-night veterinarian hospital on La Cienega,” the voice told us through the speaker.  She rattled off an address and the name of a vet working there. Then, she clicked off before we could even say thank you.  

We said it anyway.

The animal hospital wasn’t very far and we hurried inside, with the words tumbling out of us.

“Doris Day sent us!” we announced to the woman behind the glass window.

“What?” she answered, sounding as confused as the woman at Doris Day’s house.

We all rattled off at the same time, pointing to the dog, pointing to the caked blood on her fur, and adamantly insisting Doris Day wanted the dog to be helped.

And just like that: the vet saw the dog.

Well, it turned out that the wound on the dog’s head was only superficial.  The vet gave her a shot and told us she’d be fine. “And the bill?” we asked him.  He smiled and said, “Doris Day is covering it.”

By now, we knew we were fated to keep this dog until we found her owner, so we agreed we’d take turns with her until she could be back home again.  I got her that first night and I named her “Mary Hartman” after a t.v. show about a woman who always found herself in so many dramas she never knew what to do.  It seemed to fit this dog.  That night, after I cleaned the mud off her with towels, I laid down on the couch to watch t.v.  The dog climbed up on the couch next to me, laid down face-to-face, and put her paws around my shoulders, in a hug.  It was her way of thanking me.

The next day we placed an ad with a pet finders organization and it didn’t take many days to find Mary Hartman’s family.  They lived in West Hollywood and they told me that one night they went out for the evening, leaving the dog at home.  Their house was robbed while they were out and Mary Hartman must have been taken by the burglars.  That’s why she had no collar and no identification.  But something must have gone wrong during the robbery because the wound on her head was from a bullet that grazed her scalp.  She was indeed one very lucky dog.

Thanks to Doris Day.

Doris Day

Getting to Know Howard

I didn’t know my mother’s father.  

It’s always been hard to call him what he was to me: grandfather.  I guess that’s because I never really knew him – Howard Joseph Graham died nine years before I was born. He was always just a memory – my mother’s memory, and she didn’t share that memory with us a lot.

I knew how he died – a fall from scaffolding while painting the downtown Los Angeles Greyhound bus station at night.  Mom had just had dinner with him, with her brother, mother, and her Uncle Jody, who was on the same job with her father.  The accident must have happened soon in their shift because it seemed as though they had just said goodbye and headed downtown from Highland Park before there was a knock at the door, and Uncle Jody was back, in tears with the news.  Why they were painting at night, I never asked, so I guess I will never know that answer – my mother took that with her when she passed away a year ago today at the age of 93.  

Mom and I had a lot of years to talk about Howard Graham, and I guess I could have asked her that question, about why he was painting at night, in the dark, but she was always a little quiet about him, teary-eyed at his mention, with a catch in her throat if she did share a little bit here and there.  I knew not to ask her too many questions, because it made her sad, and now today I’m left with no answers and so many whys.

Here is everything I know about Howard Joseph Graham:

He liked to drink San Miguel beer and smoke cigarettes. When my mother had earaches (and she had a lot of them) he would blow smoke into her ear, and the warmth would comfort her.  Other times, he could be strict, and if Mom and her brother didn’t clean the dishes properly, and Howard came home from a night out and found them not to his liking, he’d wake up his two kids and make them clean the dishes all over again, no matter how late it was. Howard was a house painter. The family was poor – my mother used to have to spray pieces of cardboard black and slip them into her shoes to cover up the holes at the bottom of her soles so she could walk to her Catholic School, even in the rain.  She grew up during the Depression and maybe that’s why Howard was out of work so much. I don’t know much more about the man except he couldn’t eat mayonnaise – it made him sick just as it does me.  He was Irish, proud of being a Graham, and that his mother was a Quinn, his grandmother a Cassidy.  His Irish roots must have meant the world to him because they did to Mom.  There was no happier day for her than St. Patrick’s when she would dress up all in green, send Irish-themed Hallmark cards to all of our family, with her signature, “Molly Malone.” Irish music played non-stop on our stereo while the scent of corned beef boiling on the stove filled our house.  Mom’s love for all-things-Irish was so strong I always wondered if Howard was from Ireland.

“Canada,” my Mom said. “He was born in Kingston, Ontario.”

More than those few facts she never told me.

There are photographs, of course, but only a few. This is the one I like the most:

Howie in 1928 Crop

He’s laying in the sand at one of the beaches near Los Angeles.  There’s something sad and brooding about him, introspective; it’s not the kind of look you might expect to see someone wearing who’s at the beach.  It makes me think he might have been creative – like me, a brooder, always thinking, and I find a commonality there in this photo of a stranger who was my grandfather.  Maybe he was a painter, not just of houses and businesses, maybe he was a real artist. My grandmother used to paint, I have some of her watercolors. She’s the woman in this other photo with Howard – Ursula Maloney Graham. Also Irish.

Howie & Plenty

Howard looks like a famous movie director, or screenwriter, with his aviator sunglasses and open vest.  But he’s still not smiling. There’s an uncertainty lurking there – about his future, maybe?  Or is he just a man lost in an alien country, not yet a citizen, an immigrant, a foreigner in a strange place he now has to call his home.

Susan Orlean writes in The Library Book, “…the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss, make our little mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is as if we never existed.”  

I read this passage in Orlean’s book the other night and it made me think of Howard Joseph Graham.  I underlined it because it hit me me so hard, such a bleak interpretation of what it means to be alive.  With no memories of my grandfather, how can I be sure that he ever made his “mark on the world”? Seemingly, he was an ordinary man, and how do those of us who live ordinary lives make any mark at all? And what exactly does it mean to make “our mark?”

If we’re lucky, maybe that mark means our children. They get to live on, and they take us with them, whether they like it or not.  You can’t fight DNA – in the line of an eyebrow, or the curve of lips, the color of our eyes, the shape of our body, or whether we can tolerate mayonnaise or not.  The memories of all those who lived before us are a part of us, ingrained somewhere deep inside or revealing themselves there on our face, even if we don’t recognize it; and those from the past, whether we have memories of them or not, become the future.  The future we will never see, except in our dreams, or if we’re lucky, in the faces of our grandchildren.

I know very little about who Howard Joseph Graham was, or who he wanted to be, but I still wonder. I still have questions. I still search. I’m curious and I want to learn more.  And maybe that curiosity and wanting to find answers is what my grandfather left me.

That’s his mark on the world.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes Words Aren’t Enough

Featured

I never finished college that first time after high school.

I was in too big of a hurry to start my adventures in the world. So I quit in the middle of my sophomore year at UCLA and started my life.

Years later I returned. Married, with a career on the wane, and two kids now grown and off on their own adventures, I became the oldest coed in all my classes. Everyone thought I was the professor and they stopped being nice to me when they found out that I wasn’t.  It was hard work and I started to question what the hell I was doing there. I had been in no hurry to go back, but I wanted to get a degree. I always felt a little bit less than all those college grads I kept meeting in my life. I thought that going back and finishing something that I had started might make me feel more confident, more sure of the knowledge that I’d already accumulated along the way. I never thought I’d learn anything new. I was an old dog incapable of learning new tricks.

But I was wrong.

I took a class in 2008 and learned some things I guess they forgot to teach me as I was growing up. It was unsettling, as learning some truths can always be. Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny?  Sometimes the myths we’re taught as kids aren’t meant for adulthood.

The particular myth I was learning about there in that lecture hall in 2008 unsettled me and made me question so many other truths I had been taught along the way. We had to write a paper, and I struggled with what to write.  Sometimes words just aren’t enough – film can do it better.  So instead of writing an essay, I made this little film, “American Dreams.”

I wish I could say that ten years later this film has lost its meaning.

But it hasn’t.

In many ways it’s more meaningful now than ever before.

And it saddens me to write that.

 

An American Latte

Old typewriter

“Hi! Can I take your order?!”

The barista was young – with more spring in his voice than ever was in my step. I really doubted that he shaved. Or even knew how.

“I’ll have a decaf latte,” I placed my order.

And then, feeling brave.

“Double shot of vanilla,” I added. And not the sugar-free.

“And your name?” he asked, poising the black marker at the top of the paper cup.

“Darlene,” I said, and then quickly added, not willing to risk another “Darling” scribbled on my order. “D-A-R…”

“I know that name!” he said proudly. And then, finished spelling it aloud as I did, “…L…E…N…E.”

Maybe he did know how to shave.

He took my stare of amazement as a challenge and explained.

“I have a cousin named Darlene,” he told me, with a victorious smile. “She’s 65.”

65? Really?! Who dragged age into this conversation? Of course, my grey hair sneaking out the sides of my son’s old baseball cap might have been a hint or two. Do I politely nod and let the subject drop? Not willing to “date” myself? Or do I keep the ball rolling, possibly revealing my own age?

Gulp.

Aw hell, I took the plunge.

“Your cousin’s probably named after “Darlene” from the Mickey Mouse Club. A lot of us with that name were named after her. So when you see a “Darlene,” we’re usually from around that same period of time.”

“It’s such a great name!!!” he said, scrawling the name on my cup.

I smiled. It wasn’t so bad admitting my age range. I mean, I’m sure he could tell I wasn’t twenty. Even though I must admit that in my heart I am still twenty, especially when a cute young man (guy? dude?) like this takes the time to even talk to me. And when they actually look you in the eyes and smile, well, there’s no difference now at 60-something and when I was really twenty. So yeah, I looked him in the eyes and I smiled my most fetching smile.

“I really love that name of “Darlene,” he murmured, softly. “It reminds me of Old America.”

Ohhh – Kay.

I must admit this made me pause.

I wasn’t aware there was an “Old America,” but I guess there is.

And I’m it.

I’m one of the Baby Boomers who was filled with idealism, hope, and promise. There were a lot of us, and we helped stop a war and impeach a President; we spoke out against injustice, worked for diversity and equity, and stepped up, when it was our time, to do our jobs, raise our families, and run the country. We didn’t always find our way; we might have stumbled trying to do so much, but we tried. And we believed that if we worked together – all of us, Americans – we could make anything better.

Old America.

That’s what the barista called it. Called those of us who grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club and the new medium of television, long hair and the belief that love would bring us peace. And he said “Old America” with respect. He said it with longing. He said it like someone sitting on the edge of adulthood, looking back at that time of innocence when all questions were answered. When we felt safe and sure about the future, and we hoped our children and grandchildren felt the same way.  He said it like he missed that Old America.

I know what he means.

I miss it too.

Everyday People Doing Good Every Day

Featured

holding-heart

(This is part of a series I’m starting here on the blog and I’m calling it, “Everyday People Doing Good Every Day.” There are a lot of folks feeling many different feelings right now.  This isn’t an easy time for many of us. But every now and then someone sends me something special or tells me a story that makes me feel good again. It helps me remember how much goodness there is around us, and when I see this goodness I’ll post it here to share with everyone. Hopefully, it’ll inspire us to do good things ourselves in whatever ways we can to enrich our world.)

Daniel F. Craviotto Jr. is an orthopedic surgeon.

He’s also my cousin and a very good man.

I don’t just say that because he’s my cousin. You can ask anyone in Santa Barbara who knows him and I’m sure you’ll hear the same.

I don’t get emails at midnight from my cousin Dan. So last night when my phone “dinged” at a little after 12, and I saw there was an email from him, I figured it was important. The guy has been getting up at 4 each morning to handle extra patients, and I hoped everything was okay.  Here is Dan’s email…

“He’s 95 now and still has that smile. I’ve known him for 20 years.  Operated on him twice. And always the same question: How’s Charlie?  You see he’s forgotten that my Uncle Charlie passed away quite a few years ago, but he still remembers him. They played basketball together in the 1930s and 1940s at the Rec Center on Carrillo Street.  It is when he asks how Charlie’s doing when I remember that my Uncle shared the story of how his good friend was sent away to a Japanese Internment Camp during WW II.  Uncle Charlie said he was a helluva nice guy and even at 95, even now I can see that.  Humble, soft spoken and always smiling.  My uncle, who served in WW II, took a flesh wound and saw his platoon decimated in the Battle of the Bulge, always said, “It’s the shits what they did to our Japanese Americans, putting them in internment camps.” So my uncle’s friend – in spite of all the memories that he’s lost because of age – still remembers Charlie.  And for the first time today I tell him, “You know my uncle shared these stories with me about you.  About your family and the internment and how it wasn’t fair.  How you were such a good friend to him and how they carted you off.”And this man, with tears rolling down his eyes, but still with a smile on his face, just looked at me and said, “What were we to do?”  He reached his hand out and shook mine, told me he missed Charlie and my father, Danny, and he thanked me for taking care of him. What a sweet man.  Dignified. Full of grace. Always a kind word. I love that guy.”

Dad always felt badly that he couldn’t do anything to help his friend or his family.  “They lost everything,” Dad told us. “Their business, their house, their friendships.” In fact, Dad was the only friend who went to the train station to say goodbye to the whole family as they were being transported to the camps. No one else wanted anything to do with the family – a family that had lived in Santa Barbara for many years.

When Dad showed up at the train station, it meant the world to his friend. He gave him a gift, something he’d made at school:  a set of black ceramic coffee mugs. They were a parting gift of thanks to a good friend.

We never used those cups growing up; they were always hidden away. I think they were a reminder to my father of something terrible, something beyond understanding, a time that made him feel helpless.

One of those cups sits prominently on my desk.

I keep it there to honor the man who made it. And the friend who didn’t follow the crowd, but who still remained a friend.

Maybe my father couldn’t have done more.

But at least he did something.

dads-black-cup

Hello? Can You All Still Hear Me…?

It’s been three years since I’ve regularly posted here.

I’ll be honest with you — I’m not sure I remember how to do this.

I just finished writing 99,000 words, locked in the 1700s with characters who speak another language, live in another culture, and who are traveling on horses and mules 1500 miles to the promise land of California. I’ve just lived this amazing adventure, and I’m not sure how to come back here to my blog.

I’m having a hard time returning to the 21st Century.

But do you blame me?

This 21st Century isn’t easy to live in. There’s lead in the drinking water in Michigan. People are getting shot every day. There are hurricanes and Zika-bearing mosquitos in Florida, wild fires and earthquake warnings in California, 24 hour coverage of the nastiest political race that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime…and when I try to look away, to seek some solace in the words of my fellow 21st Century travelers on Facebook, Twitter, and in the blogs, I find sarcasm, snark, and insults. Sometimes even threats. It’s hard to stay positive with everything going on in the modern world around us. Harder still for a recovering agoraphobic to want to step out there into the middle of it all.

Some days I ask myself: Why aren’t there more agoraphobics in this 21st Century? After all, there’s nothing you can’t order online and have it delivered to your home. There’s no reason to go to the grocery store, the mall, the movie theater, or anywhere you need to purchase goods or content as long as you have the internet to do your shopping for you. There’s telecommuting for work, online courses for school and college, religious services, and dating. What’s the reason to ever step outside of our homes? To go out in the middle of such heartache and angst? Shouldn’t we all be hiding underneath our covers, cowering with fear and disgust? What pushes us out there every day? What gives us the faith to keep looking for the good in our world?

While writing this, I asked myself those questions. What makes me go out my front door every day, when I could stay warm and protected inside my house, with my imagination keeping me company, and without risking some unknown danger lurking outside?

The answer came easily – I didn’t have to look far.

Brown eyes.

These brown eyes…

stokely-headshot

This is my grandson, Stokely.

He was born in April, at the same hospital where my own son was born. It wasn’t planned that way – it was just one of those sweet quirks of Fate that make you smile and say, “Awwwww.”

If I stay hidden in my world, I will never have the chance to experience Stokely’s world. What I see when I look into those deep brown eyes are what make me forget about all the bad things that go bump in the night. This crazy-at-times 21st Century is his century too. Together, we have to navigate it. He knows no other century, no other world, and this crazy-by-my-terms 21st century is where he will be the most comfortable. Where I hope we can always make him feel comfortable. And above everything else—safe.

I’m working on that.

And that’s what gets me out the front door. Every. single. day.

What gets you out of your front door?

A Love Story (Sort of): The New York Rendezvous (Pt. 2)

Featured

(This is the fourth and final post of the Cookie & Marty series.  If you’d like to read the other three posts you can find them here in the order they were written:  A Love Story (Sort of),  A Love Story Continues (Sort of), A Love Story (Sort of): The New York Rendezvous (Pt. 1)…)

It’s Thursday and Cookie still hasn’t called.

I don’t know what that means.

I spoke to her on Monday when she first arrived in New York, and she sounded terrible.  She’s only supposed to be there for five days, so is no news good news?  Or is she just too miserable to talk about it?  My imagination is playing out all kinds of scenarios, and most of them aren’t good.

My cell phone finally rings in the afternoon.

“Boy, do I need a drink!”

Oh, no.

But wait…It’s 2:15 p.m. in California, so technically it’s cocktail hour in New York.  Not necessarily a bad sign.

“There’s a diner across the street.  Maybe they’ve got alcohol,” she tells me as she takes the cell phone with her to explore, with me at the other end.  She’s in luck at the diner and quickly orders a Gin & Tonic.

“Look at me – I’m having a Gin & Tonic at a counter surrounded by people eating tuna fish sandwiches.”

“Has it been that bad?!”

She takes a long sip before answering.

“It’s been wonderful!

After the fiasco of the flight-that-never-seemed-to-end, Cookie awoke the next day feeling that the pressure was off her shoulders.

“We met.  We saw each other.  And we lived through it,” she explained. “The hard part was already over!”

It had been 55 years since the two of them had seen each other, and even though they had shared photos in their emails, seeing one another up close was the real deal.

“I didn’t exactly look 15, but he didn’t look 22 either! So it was a draw.”

Marty had arrived at the motel the next morning, picked her up, and they went non-stop all day. Breakfast at a diner.  Beachcombing at the beach.  A ferry ride out to Ocean Beach on Fire Island.  A sudden rainstorm and lots of laughter.  A walk in the village, window shopping, and ice cream cones.  Holding hands, and arms tight around each other.  Non-stop conversation, and a feeling that they had known each other for all of the 55 years they had missed spending together. They did so many activities that first day, Marty called her up later that night.

“I’m exhausted!  You’ve got so much energy! How do you do it?!”

“I’ve got a big personality,” she explains to me.  As if I hadn’t noticed.

The next day Cookie spent with her New York family: two nieces, their husbands, and all of their kids.  It was an amazing family reunion, a trek into Manhattan for Chinese food, while Marty stayed at home.

“Were you nervous that maybe he was ditching you?” I ask.

“No way! I exhausted him!  He needed to rest!”

Sure enough, on Thursday he picked her up bright and early, and confessed, “I missed you yesterday. You’re under my skin.”

Thursday was filled with more beaches, and a visit to a magnificent old lighthouse.

The Lighthouse at Fire Island

Originally lit in 1858, its light still burns bright and steady –  for decades offering the first evidence of land across a vast, oftentimes turbulent Atlantic Ocean.

In the afternoon, they walked further down the beach, collecting seashells.  Her head down, and searching the sand, Cookie’s attention was on the ocean’s beautiful bounty when Marty suddenly stopped her.

“Don’t walk any further or you’ll be on the nude beach.”

Cookie stopped in her tracks. She knew all about this beach because Marty had told her about it when they had talked on the phone.  He was always a beach lover, and so he would walk along this shore for hours, all by himself. One day when he was strolling along he came across the clothing optional beach. He started meeting people there – from all walks of life – nice people, mostly middle-aged, and he liked them.  So he kept going back.  And one day he figured, what the hell: he took off his shirt, and then took the big step and lost his shorts.

“Where’s your beach? Where exactly is it?” Cookie wanted to know.  But Marty wanted her to be comfortable.

“Don’t look up,” he told her.  “I don’t want you to see something that’ll maybe make you uncomfortable.”

Cookie stopped in her tracks and didn’t look up.  But then something wonderful happened – all of Marty’s friends, the ones there on that clothing optional beach, knew about Cookie and they wanted to meet her. They wanted to meet the woman who Marty talked so much about, and who’d made their friend so happy.  So they did something special just for her.  They put on their shirts, reached for a robe or a towel, slipped into their shorts, and they went over to the other side of the beach just to meet her and to say hello.

“I love his friends!!!”

They were all different kinds of people. One guy worked for a trucking firm, another guy had the NY Yankee logo on his bicep (with the year of every series they’d won). One of the women worked on bridges, and another woman was a special needs teacher. They all gathered around Cookie, introducing themselves (now fully dressed), meeting her and hitting it off like long-lost friends. One of the women was scheduled to go to New Hampshire to begin her vacation, but she postponed leaving so she and her husband could throw Cookie and Marty a barbecue and the rest of Marty’s friends could meet Cookie.

“Can you imagine?  They all put on their clothes just to meet me!”

It was a great week for Cookie.

“Marty is wonderful!”

A real gentleman, she tells me:  always holding open her car door, and taking her hand. They had long conversations, and even the pauses felt right.  After only the first couple of days.

“I stopped wearing makeup after the second day!” she says proudly.

And Cookie always wears makeup.

“I felt like I had been with this man forever. There wasn’t one moment when I wasn’t having a nice time. We’re like an old married couple.”

And?

“And you don’t give something like that up.”

Amen.

“But I’m sorry about your ending,” she tells me, as I hear her finishing the last of her Gin & Tonic, the ice clicking against the glass.

“What ending?” I ask.

“Exactly! There is no ending.”

Marty is comfortable with his life there on Long Island.  He loves his friends, loves to walk his dog, loves his beach (clothing optional), and he loves going back to his home when the day is over.  Cookie is also happy with her life – 3,000 miles away in L.A.

“There’s no kind of ending to our story,” Cookie explains.

I tell her not to worry about it.  Sometimes the best story doesn’t really end – it just stops.  But what matters the most are the feelings you’re left with when it does stop.

Cookie went back to L.A. on Saturday, and she called me once the weekend was over. Her flight home had been just as hectic as the one going out to New York: the flight was cancelled, and she had to spend hours in line at the airport trying to get another one.

“I’ll never book another flight using free mileage!!!” she wails.

She was ecstatic to be home.

“Are you sorry you traveled the 3,000 miles?” I ask her.

“Not at all!” she says without hesitation. “One of the best things I’ve ever done. If anything, this made me and Marty closer.”

Marty still calls promptly at 8 a.m. every morning, and Cookie calls him a couple of times during the day.  They email each other constantly.  And when the snow globe Cookie bought for her granddaughter at Ocean Beach broke, Marty insisted on taking the ferry back out there to buy her another. What the two of them have now, before Cookie schlepped 3000 miles east, are new shared memories.  Before, the only memories they had were 55 years old, intense, youth-filled experiences.  But now there’s that ferry ride to Ocean Beach, the Lighthouse on Fire Island, the sudden thunderstorm, sharing an ice cream cone, collecting seashells on the beach, the good friends who welcomed Cookie like a member of their own family, holding hands and cuddling, and a comfort they share with each other and no one else in this world.  If that ain’t love, what is?

All animals mate, but few mate for life.  With the divorce rate at 40 – 50%, Homo sapiens seem to change partners like the rest of the animal world.  And yet, we try for something different.  We stand up in front of our friends and family and we take vows – for better or worse, in all kinds of bad times, sickness and health, whether we’re rich or we’re poor.  We say those vows because we mean them and we try to stay together for a lifetime. The lucky ones make it, but even if we fail, we still want to try again. The one quality we have that the animals don’t is our need for intimacy. Not just that physical act of reproduction, but that rare connection that happens between two people, that bond uniting two souls that takes away our loneliness, comforting, and soothing us to make those bumps in life a little more tolerable.  It’s hearing another voice, or looking into another pair of eyes, and feeling more comfortable there than you do within yourself.  That’s intimacy, and it can happen with or without sex, in and out of a marriage, with best friends, and with soul mates.  It’s amazing that it even happens at all, but it does.  And when you find another human being with whom you can share that intimacy, you’ve found your home. You recognize it and say, “Yeah, this is it.  I’m safe with this person, and so I’ll stay.”

In those old Hollywood movies you never really see the end of a love story. Instead, the romance is sealed with a kiss, and the audience is sent home happy. That’s all we need to know – that in this oh-too-painful-at-times world, filled with stress and craziness, two people have found one another. That’s all we really need to know about Cookie & Marty: that these two people, living separate lives on two faraway coasts, somehow connected with one another. And they both lived happily ever after.

Because we want them to.