Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Good Man Project - Behind Every Good Man.....

Isn't he yummy, Cary Grant? Much sexier than Clooney, Pitt or any other movie star icon from today. Cary symbolized suave and seemingly seeped charisma from his very pores. His screen personalities could joust with the strongest female characters of the time and eventually convince them to just stop all their fussing and fall helplessly and hopelessly into his arms forever. He took on Katharine Hepburn, Maureen O'Hara, Grace Kelly, Doris Day, Sophia Loren and even Mae West. All feisty, all independent, strong-willed women, all eventually succumbed to his devilish charm.  In the movies that is.

His real life, born as Archibald Leach, was marred with rumors of being gay or bi-sexual. He married five times. This is why the focus of my blog post today will be on the real-life Cary Grant's I know, not the Archibald Leach's of the world, a few of which I met and married.  Make sense? Let's get started then.

I had a frustrating lunch with two of my girlfriends last week. One of them seemed to have arrived at a place in her life where she felt she needed a man for one thing, and one thing only, and it's not to make repairs around the house. After an hour or so of trying to convince her otherwise, I figuratively threw my hands in the air and gave up; yet, I knew deep down, she was wrong.

All of my girlfriends are strong, focused, successful women. Some of them selected an Archibald in their youth, before they knew any better, then were able to enjoy the fruits of meeting their Cary Grant later in life. These are good guys who can appreciate a gutsy, determined, intelligent, opinionated woman while still being a man who knows when to wrap them up (reference helplessly above) in his arms and allow them to cry.

There's Larry#1 who married a single mom and built her a castle (literally). He helps her care for her ailing mother and her 16 year old daughter with a gentle spirit representing what a man should be.

Mark #1 married my friend T and restored her belief in love after she endured abuse at the hands of an alcoholic and the death of her baby boy. He now insists upon taking care of her daughter who just graduated from college, saying he wants to help her out financially for a bit so she can build a nest egg to start her new life.

Russ fell in love with K right before my eyes.  I was there at the precise moment they met. He runs an international company in Chicago, commuting by train everyday from Milwaukee so he can come home to his wife and young son. His daughter was fully grown, he was finished with the parental aspect of his life; yet, you should see the twinkle in his eyes when he speaks of this little boy who is now very much his own.

Mark #2 travels back and forth from Oklahoma City to Houston to be at his sister's bedside while she is undergoing cancer treatment at MD Anderson. He comes home to K and their gorgeous daughter and devotes the same attention to them, never seeming to give much thought to his own needs.

My friend V was lucky enough to have experienced two good men in her life.  I think that's because she is like walking sunshine, you feel warm in her presence.  After losing her first husband, she eventually met Dave. He stirs excitement and exudes the same inner warmth and depth, creating a life together full of adventure with plenty of room to always welcome friends.

Larrry #2 found my single mom friend S, whose two children had been exposed to an alcoholic father. He helped her complete the child rearing and now enjoys time with their grand kids at their serene lake cabin getaway.

Doug buried his wife after complications she suffered from the OKC bombing. He was unsure about marriage to my friend D but a trip to Ireland convinced him to come home and literally sweep her off her feet. They married in Hawaii and seem to be almost custom made for each other.

My bright, beautiful friend J met Alan after being single for many years. She had buried her husband (again, from alcoholism), was raising two sons and was determined to put herself through school. This slightly younger, charming man didn't try to tame the feisty blond; instead he grabbed on for the ride of his life. They are unique in that they have some distinctly different points of view but at the end of the day, they celebrate their love and share their good fortune with everyone lucky enough to be a part of their lives.

Three of my girlfriends married right out of high school and are still married today.  Boone, Randy and Steve all have one thing in common. There is a calmness to them, a sense they can be counted on for anything and an unwavering belief in doing the right thing. Plus, it doesn't hurt when one of them just celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary and they love to have sex standing up!

The lesson here is hope.  There is hope for my girlfriend who seemed on the verge of giving up last week. She sent me a quick message on Monday to tell me I was right. She does want someone in her life after all.  She has been wasting a lot of time with Archibald-types, especially the one who was most likely gay. My other two girlfriends who are just leaving lengthy marriages; one with a meth addicted doctor and one with a narcissistic, "Sleeping with the Enemy" control freak will all find their way if they simply allow themselves to believe their Cary Grant awaits.  But more importantly, they have to know how lucky he will be to have found them.

My dear friend, set your heart free, release the fear that resides within you and allow it to fly away like a gentle dove on the winds of change. Give it time to coast and glide along these winds of destiny until it is able to circle around and come back to you, fully open and ready to embrace what the universe will provide. You won't recognize him until you can see this within your own soul.

Let it go and let it come.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Good Man Project - Pleasure and Pain

My boyfriend and I just celebrated the one year anniversary of our first date. He sent me the most exquisite bouquet of demure peach and passionate red roses along with his favorite flowers, Gerber daisies in various bright colors. Yes, my boyfriend is not afraid to admit he has a favorite flower. As if this weren't enough, he then planned a night out for us including dinner at an exclusive, highly-rated French bistro overlooking Lake Michigan.

We talked about the night we met.  How he thought I wasn't that into him because I kept sneaking peaks at the TV to check on a college basketball game.  It was March Madness and that game was going to make or break my bracket.  My bracket ended up in the tank but my life was to be propelled upward with the gift of this man who can understand and accept me, read my blog and still love me, romance me, talk sense into me, inspire me, fix my stuff that needs fixin', impress the hell out of me and most importantly, laugh with me, even when I'm laughing at myself; like questioning the "Faux" Gras during our fancy French dinner.

This man fluently speaks four languages, French being one of them.  Here I am waxing on about how good the Faux Gras is but what does the Faux part mean anyway?  I know it's liver and it's the first time I've tried it but what's the fake part about it? Doesn't faux mean fake? Is it fake liver? He just smiled and said baby, it's Foir Gras (pronounced Fwah), it means fatty liver.



Embarrass much?

I reminded him how there are times when I can be positively brilliant and then there are these times when my inner hick emerges in her full south side glory.

What can I say, he loved it and he loves me. I count myself quite fortunate to have met him as he is most definitely one of the good guys. It made me reflect on my last relationship, how I was sure he was the one.

Enter heartbreak - with a jolt so sudden, I was
grappling with the feelings of being stunned, ambushed and somewhat in denial. WTF?  We were fine just hours before when he texted me to tell me he couldn't wait to see me later. Further questioning, prying and excavating for rhyme, reason or sanity prompted him to tell me his ex wife had called to chastise him for leaving his daughter's orthodontic mouthpiece at my house over the weekend. They had to reschedule her appointment for God's sake.  Not that.  Anything but that.  You mean, they had to be a little inconvenienced.  Are you fucking kidding me? But the doctor, bitter ex-wife, bitch had spoken, asking him if he was going to be a responsible dad or continue spending, i.e., wasting all of your time in Milwaukee.

I always thought of him as one of the good guys. I still do.  His heart was in the right place, his priorities were straight but in that moment of the break-up, he revealed his true character to me.  I didn't see it at the time.  In fact, we reconciled within a month. I had been devastated, suffering through the couldn't eat or sleep - just been kicked in the gut syndrome. He was second guessing his decision and seemed to realize he allowed himself to fall apart out of a knee-jerk reaction.

I will always be thankful for that five month reconciliation period. I came back to him with hesitancy in my heart. I took a few steps back and cautiously watched him. I found he doesn't care much for the bends and twists in the road, not to mention the rocky terrain that was my life.  I thought he would be stronger with The Commando, I thought he would be stronger for me. But really, who can stand up to me and my "stuff"?

His life was meticulously planned, right down to the last detail.  His family traveled that way through England and Scotland, pouring over maps, marking every possible tourist spot, then cramming them in as if you were on a bus tour designed by speed-travelers. Oh look, there's Loch Ness, no time to stop - gotta get to Rob Roy's grave before dark you know. They asked me to submit my list of things to see prior to the trip.  Imagine what they must have thought of me when I said all I really wanted to do was to soak up the culture, put my hands on the earth and be one with the land of my family's heritage.

I made them stop whenever there were sheep on the road because they looked like they were wearing cute little argyle socks. I asked them to pull over once for me to photograph a flower. I begged them to stay in the coastal town of Oban just long enough to see a traditional Scottish highlands dance show complete with our very own ceilidh dance lessons.  I was proud of that one, for even though it wasn't on our itinerary, everyone danced, even mum and dad and by golly, they loved it. My favorite experience was wondering off during a lunch stop in a field of tall grass surrounded by heather covered mountain ranges. I ran my fingers through the grass and imagined the women of my family, generations before me, perhaps walking this very path.

My ways were all so foreign to them. I must have felt like a creature of another time and place. My life is full of crazy and spontaneity with moments of brilliance followed by flashes of despair or awkward displays of sheer stupidity. Nothing in my live ever seemed planned; for example, I never planned for he and I to break up.  Looking back on it now, I can see he must have struggled with the decision for quite some time.  The guy took three weeks one time to select a picture frame. I'd like to think it took him at least three months and an Excel spreadsheet to decide we weren't right for each other.

Ultimately, the end of our relationship became my choice. I am thankful for my time with this man who was one of he good guys, for it allows me to continue to see clearly as I proceed to fall deeper in love with my strong, decisive, smart, sarcastic boyfriend that loves to travel and live life without a detailed itinerary. He laughs when I mispronounce my French or accidentally flip a piece of lobster across the room while less than delicately forcing it from its shell.

We are letting life unfold at our feet with a few glasses of wine, a little crazy and screaming kids in tow. Stalking one sunset at a time.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Good Man Project - Coach Carter

He must have been very young to have been that trusting, or some would say reckless to allow a group of 16 and 17 year old journalism students to run free day and night through the streets of Manhattan in 1980. It was a much different city than today with it's sprawling retailers and clean streets. Back then, it was mean streets. Our hotel was located in the heart of the seedy porn district with prostitutes and drug dealers working the corners and theater owners barking at us like carnival vendors to entice us in to see their shows.

I first met Coach in the eighth grade when I joined the school newspaper staff. There was something about him that felt like home, not the kind of home I lived in, but the kind of home I wanted to live in. He was a mentor and a friend. On the last day of middle school, I started crying on the bus ride home and continued to cry for the rest of the night. It wasn't about leaving middle school, fear of high school or missing my friends over the summer, it was the realization this man would no longer be a part of my life.

Imagine my delight when I walk into the high school newspaper lab to find him sitting there with his ever present sardonic grin. He had accepted a new position over the summer, a promotion of sorts. He looked at the same rag tag group he had taught last year plus a few new faces and began to get to work with us. Calling us by our last names while he sat there with his feet propped up on his desk.

I was always afraid to let people read anything I had written.  Outside of the school newspaper, my writing was limited to my journals and poetry, both of which have never been shared with anyone. When Coach would assign me an article, I couldn't watch him read it.  I usually gave it to him on the way out the door.  It would then be returned to me with his edits, written in tiny, barely legible red ink scrawl. Among the edits, he would work in his own editorial comments, always positive, always building me up and always encouraging me to do more.

He saw something in my writing, something he wanted to bring forth. In my junior and senior years, he assigned me my own editorial column, letting me choose the topic and allowing me to print just about anything you could imagine. I wrote about Skylab falling from the sky, administrative policies I disagreed with, and an emotional piece about the death of one of my good friends who had been herded into a meat locker at the local steak house and systematically shot to death along with five of his co-workers. I discovered my voice during these years and I learned that others liked reading it.

I didn't have a voice at home. I barely spoke to anyone at school, keeping only unto my little group of friends. But with this column, I had a powerful voice. Coach entered one of my articles into a statewide contest, then stood by my side when I picked up first place in features writing at the annual convention on the University of Oklahoma campus. This was the first of many times he would be there to remind me to write.

I have tried to remember if there was a time when I might have told him I was an unhappy girl, surrounded by violence and chaos.  I don't think I did but he must have known. He placed himself in the role of big brother to me. I could depend on him for anything and he, in turn, learned he could do the same with me. He cooked up this trip to NYC to attend a journalism convention at Columbia, most likely because he wanted a free trip.

He essentially dropped us off at the hotel, ordered me to meet him at Columbia for the conference events and told the group as a whole to behave themselves as he would see them on the flight home. We rode the subways at night, drank in an Irish pub, hiked up and down the island, performed a song on stage in same Irish pub, giggled our way through Deep Throat, ate at Mama Leones, saw a Broadway show and made it back to Oklahoma City with lasting memories.

Coach was keeping tabs on us. He had practically raised most of us; he knew what we would and wouldn't do. We never allowed the boys in our room, except for the gay guy. We ignored the drug dealers, traveled in groups and stayed close to the hotel at night.  Both the Irish Pub and the Deep Throat theater were directly across the street.  Somehow that seemed safer. Every morning, I would report to the convention, update him on what we did the night before and what our plans were for the next evening, all while trying to hide my lack of sleep and scraped knees from performing our Russian dance routine at the Irish pub.

Thank you Coach for trusting in me, believing in my talent and providing me the wings with which I continue to soar.

Interesting to note: I remember thinking I was fat in high school. Also, pictured in the group photos are two of my best friends, Leaders of the Free World, today. Can anyone spot the little birdie with Farrah hair?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Good Man Project - Where For Art Thou Grandpa?

His name was Benson. I can remember his smell, a combination of cigarette smoke and Old Spice. I gravitated to him like a helpless floating particle, unable to understand why he was like candy. I couldn't resist him.  His chair, the light beige recliner, sat within two feet of the front door in their tiny shotgun house. I think the door might have actually hit the chair upon opening.

We didn't get to visit "this side of the family" very often.  It wasn't like my dad's family, where we were always having them over or I was constantly begging to spend the night with my older cousins Debbie and Betty Sue or my Aunt Sarah. These people were once, twice, maybe four times per year, as I recall.  When my mom's side of the family got together, it was for Christmas, a special occasion or somebody had died.

My mom had two sisters close to the same age and two brothers, born much later. They grew up in this impoverished yet important dwelling behind the school yard on the south side of Oklahoma City. My mother's childhood memories of sharing a bed with her two sisters, having family over to play musical instruments every weekend or her younger brothers sleeping in the kitchen because they didn't have a room was one of the many things I learned by reading her journals after her death.

There was so much I didn't know.

What I did know was that I loved this man who kept an ashtray on the side of his recliner because he couldn't be without a cigarette for more than a few minutes. When we were allowed to make one of our semi occasional, i.e. rare sojourns to their home, it seemed to be something my dad faced with dread, consternation and a healthy dose of passive aggression. I had the sense we were to be there for the appearance, the gift exchange, the formalities, then we were to vamoose, evaporate like yesterdays rain. 

When the whole family was together, there was Grandma (not much to say about her, aloof, distant, never really knew her), Grandpa and gay Uncle Bob who lived in the back room addition which was built on many years later. The nuances and ultimate falling out with Uncle Bob is a post all unto its own; however suffice it to say, the man could make a mean pie crust.

The other uncle never had children and the two sisters each had two boys so I was the one and only precious baby girl grandchild. I often wonder if this is why grandpa took pity on me and acquiesced to my insatiable need to be near him or if I was just too darn cute and persistent to allow him to put me down.  I want to think he wanted me as much as I wanted him.

He had  large, rough hands for a man with such a diminutive stature. He was a machinest but preferred music above all else. He allowed me to be the pouty, doleful girl I was and I felt safe with him. I remember the photo above. I remember my dress, the doll I was holding, the worn, leather briefcase beside his chair and the black Mary Jane shoes which were my absolute favorites. I also recall the feeling that I didn't want my picture taken ergo the signature sullen face. He never smiled in pictures, my mom never smiled and I didn't either. Why didn't we smile?

Can somebody please fill in these blanks for me?  Aunt Donna? Uncle Benny? I want to know more about the man who in the words of Dan Fogelberg was a "quiet man of music, denied a simpler fate".

As part of my series on good men, my grandpa immediately comes to mind. He died when I was 10. This gentle man was taken from me before I realized how much I needed him. I can't help but wax philosophically. Would I have turned to him for advice during those cluttered, demoralizing, baffling years? Would he have been able to usher me through the substandard choices or circumvented the chaos and shown me the essence of the male archetype I craved? 

Hard to say.

Not sure I want to know. But I would like to know why we were not allowed to visit often enough for me to cherish this man.

My other grandpa died when my dad was only 13. My Granny Mac never remarried. This man, Benson, was the only shot I had at a Grandpa. His life was cut short due to heart disease and lifestyle. One cannot inhale tobacco to that degree and escape its wrath.  He was a good man. I don't think anyone else in that teeny, tiny house wanted to deal with me and my attitude. On some ethereal level, he got me. He didn't mind holding me, loving me and allowing me to adore him. He was humble, used to working hard to support his family but stepping aside to let them have the spotlight. When I was with him, he was the light of my world and I made him smile in a world where smiles were not easily given.

When someone in my family passes, we honor them with the words and music which carry meaning for them. Some might call it cr-A-zy or unconventional at best but that's what we do.  Dad had Sinatra, Mom had Van Morrison and a spanish guitarist. My brother had Pink Floyd and my Grandpa Benson had Dan Fogelberg. My eldest brother and a friend of his played their guitars and sang to him.....

The Leader of the Band is tired
And his eyes are growing old,
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul.
My life has been a poor attempt
to imitate the man.
I'm just a living legacy
to the Leader of the Band.

His song will forever be in my soul and his blood courses through my veins to remind me he was a good man and I am his legacy.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Good Man Project - Bubba

After spending a great deal of time here at Stalking Sunsets sharing my painful memoirs inhabited by one bad character after another, I was asked by a follower, "aren't their any good guys out there"?

What to my wondering eyes should appear but a revelation, and an inspiration to expose the good guys for what they are.  Simply good.

I must begin by picking up where I left off on my last post and mentioning perhaps my all time favorite good guy, my very own #1Son.  It is difficult to describe the gentle spirit that resides within this young man. You meet him and you feel immediately comfortable with him; yet, you're not sure why. He won't open up to you, he will appear quiet, reserved, perhaps even shy. But once he knows you, you will find yourself wondering how the hell he can be so damn funny.

He is the kind of person that will be there when you need him, which is a good thing since he will be around to usher me into my twilight years. That's old age, not vampire sex.  He's a diamond in the rough, with life waiting just around the corner. He takes things as they come. He's not in a rush, he's willing to let life unfold before him.

Traveling together to Oklahoma this past Thanksgiving, we laughed our way there and back, each of us doing our impressions of the southern accents we've long since abandoned. I have expected a lot out of that child. I moved him to Wisconsin at the age of 14, I married twice during his lifetime and I brought three more kids into his formerly peaceful existence. I was a young, single girl who learned to be a mom and I made lots of mistakes.

He has endured the loss of his grandmother and grandfather who favored him and helped to raise him while I was working three jobs. He has watched me bury two brothers and bring life to two babies at the same time. He had a tumor removed from behind his ear at the age of four and will always have a hearing loss from the makeshift inner-ear the surgeon fashioned back into place for him.

In spite of it all, he grew into this amazing man and he loves me with all my faults. He is a dedicated brother to his somewhat challenging siblings. They adore him and they call him Bubba.  Everything he has attempted in life, he has done well. Whether it was pitching a no-hitter on a red dirt baseball field in Oklahoma or playing the trumpet and winning the State of Wisconsin marching band competition. He can be counted on by anyone lucky enough to be a part of his life. He is soft and kind in spirit yet tough as nails underneath and I couldn't be more proud than to proclaim him a "good man".