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#11 BEACH MUSIC: A time of tans, blonds and hot pants

Beach Music, an On the Street Where I Livestories is really a tale of two cities; San Juan, Puerto Rico and Santa Monica, California. It was originally published in the LA Times Sunday Magazine.

Beach Music We came to California from Canada, with a detour to Puerto Rico that lasted one endless summer of a year. A year in which I turned 15, and my hair turned blond from living in the sun. “Psst,” the boys and men would call after me in the blue-cobbled streets of San Juan. “Psst! Hey, blondie. Psst! Hey, cutie pie.” I was devastated when my parents said we had to go, that it was time to leave the island so that my older brother, Russell, could get a first rate education. The plan was to drive cross country from Miami and settle in San Francisco so that my brother could finish high school before going on to UC Berkeley. But, once we got there in the fall of 1968, we found that …

Leaving Home: A Divorce Story [Part Five]

Not all marriages last, mine didn't. Not my first one. Whose fault? It couldn't possibly be mine.

Here’s the fifth installment of my wedding story, you can catch up with what came before here.

Leaving Home: Part Five

I dreamed of a wedding dress that would make me feel like a princess, Grace Kelly style. Not that 'the perfect wedding' in quotation marks was some kind of fantasy I'd been harboring; I wasn't one of those girls who'd been dreaming of her own wedding day for years, who kept a file stuffed with pictures of white rosy bouquets and reception decoration ideas pulled from magazines. I wasn't a total ninny with a secret stash of handmade place cards hidden in the basement, just waiting for the right groom to come along. But I was getting married, and I knew how I wanted to look. I'd been waiting my whole life to turn into Grace Kelly, maybe this was my moment. Sleek and simple, my dream dress was an elegant slip of floor length satin, a gently scooped neckline to show off just a touch of décolleté. Borrowing the latest copy of Modern Bride from the drug store's magazine rack, I thumbed through its glossy pages on my break, searching for my dream dress come true. I gave up when it became clear that the phrase 'champagne taste, beer budget' was written with me in mind. If that dream dress was alive, it existed only at a price so high, it was dead to me. Instead I ended up walking down the aisle suffocating in an overpowering haze of gauzy chiffon, pinched at the waist, yards of sheer and shiny white ballooning around me, puffy transparent sleeves sticking to my arms, the high collar of stiff lace choking and scratching at my throat.

"Who gives this woman — this flighty foolish creature — away?"
"Her mother and I do. —We tried to talk her out of it. What's a father to do?"

You'd never know from my dad's distinguished voice, the thick, emotion-charged cough echoing in the church, that my wedding was a rush job.

When the minister asked "If any of you know why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace," I held my breath but no one stood up and shouted their objection. No one pounded on the church's glass door. No one said a word; they'd all had their say during our quickie courtship. We wouldn't be deterred.

Philip and I had had the mandatory meeting with a church minister, assuring him that no, I wasn't pregnant, and looking him right in the eyes, we convinced him of our genuine love and devotion for each other. So what if we were young and had only known each for a few months? It was easy. Strangers to each other, we were even more so to him, Philip being new in town and me, not being the churchy type, he took us at our word. Except for Sunday School as a child and a brief period of religious fervor at age eighteen when I'd been baptized at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, my spirituality heightened by the urge to impress Guy, the long-haired, dope-smoking leader of our youth group, the eldest son of the preacher man, I hadn't spent much time in the pews. I wouldn't have dreamed of going back and getting married there, at St. Paul's, where I had history. Where for a time I'd dressed up in my Sunday best and mingled with Laura and her mom and the other churchgoers after the service, consuming punch and sugar cookies, and wondering if Guy noticed my outfit. Better to be married by a stranger who couldn't see my heart.

We'd driven over the grade to Carpinteria so I could meet his mother and his brother Joey, a big-hearted, overgrown boy of a man who told me he loved me and hugged me so hard and for so long that Philip had to peel him off me.

"Sorry. He doesn't know his own strength."

"That's okay. It's okay Joey, I love you too." I didn't —how could I, we'd just met? — but I wanted to, as if my wanting to was the same thing.

We'd settled on a color theme. Actually I'd settled, Philip had won the round with chocolate brown tuxedos paired with frilly-fronted coral colored shirts and boutonnieres.

The brown velvet bow tie the salesman at the Gary's Tux Shop showed him clinched the deal.

Coming out of the dressing room, grinning and shoving his glasses up his slippery nose, Philip looked like he was a teenager, going to his first prom. All set to borrow the car keys from dad. I'd never been to the prom. Seeing Philip all decked out, a vision in brown and peach, I wasn't sure I wanted to go now.

"How about black?" I was trying to steer him toward what my mind insisted was the only reasonable color choice in wedding tuxedos. Truth? When it came to tuxedos, I didn't think there was such a thing as color choice.

"Black?" Philip countered with what I was sure was a sneer. "Black is boring."

The seventies or not, I wanted to tell him his peachy-keen color combo was tacky but how do you tell your fiancé his taste makes you want to gag?

"We'll look like we're going to the senior prom."

He preened in the three-way mirror as the salesmen brushed invisible dust off his shoulders.

"Nah. We'll look cool."

While I hadn't been planning a wedding in my dreams, I was beginning to think maybe Philip had.

Brown tuxedos it was. With coral, peachy shirts. I countered with my idea of hippie flare; oatmeal colored dresses by GunnySax for the bridesmaids, tie-dyed fringed shawls tinged with shades of brown and coral around their shoulders. My sister Nancy was my maid of honor, my best friend Laura and my brother's girlfriend Jennifer were my bridesmaids. I knew they'd all look beautiful with flowers in their hair.

Nancy found us a band; my brother's friend Larry would take the pictures; and my dad made some phone calls to find a place for the reception. Everything was coming together fast, so very fast; when my dad and I met with the catering director at the Miramar Hotel, the hefty reality of prices per head became clear in my spinning head. When they confirmed their ballroom was available for March 22, I bit my nails while my dad insisted we book it. The thousands of dollars my parents were spending on this wedding was starting to make my stomach flip. It was an awful lot of money, money they could never get back. I had to ask myself, what was I doing?

Picking out and mailing off invitations, that's what.

We couldn't afford the thick, creamy card stock that I, with my obviously superior taste, wanted, but like the wedding dress, couldn't afford. Still, I refused to go with the shiny ones with the garish pink metallic flowers imprinted on them that Philip, with his clearly, decidedly inferior taste, was drawn to. Cringing as he revealed his lack of refinement in front of the stationery saleswoman — a stranger I'd probably never see again — demonstrating just how much my husband-to-be was not a classy fella, was maybe not even in the same league as me, I hated myself for being so superficial. I really did.

It's just that somewhere along the line, I'd began to hate him just a tiny bit more.

There’s a gap where our wedding and short-lived marriage should be.
For now the bitter end is all I’ve got.


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