Growing up, both my parents worked full-time. The TV reruns were a cheap babysitter for me. I turned out OK, but my wife and I agreed that when we started our own family, Valerie would stay home with our kids. I would have some great six-figure job in Manhattan with a fabulous Upper West Side home overlooking Central Park. And maybe have a nice Connecticut retreat like Tony Danza found in “Who’s the Boss?”
But before “Who’s The Boss”, there was “Taxi”.
If you ask any New York City taxicab driver, there are two types of fares to avoid. The first is anyone accompanied by a crying infant. And the second type of fare to avoid is a drunk who looks like he might throw up in the back of the cab.
Among taxi cab philosophy, there’s a very fine line when it comes to drunks. The optimist taxi driver hopes for a drunk, wealthy passenger who will simply pass out on the ride home—allowing the driver to circle the block several times in order to beef up the total fare. The pessimist taxi driver fears the drunk, loud rambler.
Our driver would get both.
Let’s just say, after we left the church, I made Marcus flash a lot of cash before any cab pulled over for us. No doubt, that taxicab driver still regrets it. Even if we promised to pay him with another gemstone. We only needed to ride about 20 blocks, but it seemed like an eternity in hell, since Marcus wouldn’t shut up.
And Marcus wouldn’t make any sense either. He’d start complaining about the Wall Street suits who dissed him earlier that day. Two minutes later (at the end of the very same long-winded sentence), he was reminiscing about a recent deep sea fishing trip. He couldn’t finish a single thought he had started!
Fortunately for me, Marcus directed his entire ramblings through the plastic window partition toward the taxicab driver. It was probably no coincidence that the driver kept pumping the brakes—causing Marcus to repeatedly bang his forehead into the partition. It takes a lot more than that to stop his mouth from running.
Poor ZoElizabeth. The herky-jerky ride made her sick, and on top of her tired cries, she began spitting up the milkshake. A better father should have known that would come back to haunt me. I couldn’t reach for a cloth or blanket fast enough. I got most of it all over my suit. It’s not as though I have any other job interviews lined up this week.
Like in “Star Trek”, if I could have beamed us out of there to escape instantly, I would have. But deep down, I knew that I wasn’t done with Marcus, and he wasn’t done with me.
I was thankful when the cab pulled onto a familiar street downtown. The street where I lived. Or rather, the street where I used to live.
I wonder if it’s a coincidence, but as I gave the driver directions to pull up in front of the building’s awning, Marcus passed out. As I climb out with ZoElizabeth, with my suit covered in milky yuck, I realize that Marcus isn’t going anywhere. I can’t send the taxicab along, as I have no idea where Marcus is staying in town. I probably could have fished through his pockets looking for his money clip, or a hotel key, but at the moment, I had to get ZoElizabeth upstairs to her mother. I had enough explaining to do as it is.
I assured the taxicab driver that I would be back shortly. He yelled something to me, but I pretended he was speaking to me in either Arabic, or Pig Latin. In any case, I fled inside past my 18-year old doorman, Sam, as he opens up the building door for me.
Sam points out the puke stains on my suit, as if maybe I didn’t notice that I had puke on me. Not the brightest doorman around, but for this building, we’re lucky to have even an 18-year old manning the front door. I always feel guilty when I see Sam. I wanted to tip him better last Christmas, but I rationalized that I’d make up for it as soon as I got a new job. Besides, that Christmas tip money went toward diapers. And couples counseling. Both of which were full of shit.
Upstairs, I get to our apartment door. My key doesn’t seem to work. This touches my last nerve. I keep my emotions in check. I always thought that was one of my strengths. In couples counseling, Valerie argues that keeping my emotions in check is one of my biggest faults.
As I’m stabbing the lock with my key, the door actually opens. I look up, but it’s not Valerie. Am I at the wrong door?
“Can I help you?” offers the sort of masculine voice.
At that moment, I don’t have the right words. Only syllables. None of which combined probably answer his question.
He closes the door. I examine the number on the apartment door. 8E. Yup, that’s right. Everything down the hallway looks right. Across the hall, I see the Tree of Life Mezuzah on the Sheinkopf’s door.
Maybe I was beamed away to some alternate universe after all. I can only hope, in this alternate universe, I’m happy, I’m employed, and my marriage is back to normal.
8E opens up again. This time, there’s a blonde head of hair peeking out from behind the half-open door. It’s Valerie. With her blue-green eyes sizing me up, I realize that, unfortunately, there is no alternate universe. I am not happy.
“We’re home,” I say, as if stating the obvious while un-strapping the Baby Bjorn. “But my apartment key isn’t working.”
ZoElizabeth sees her mother, and in an instant, her crying stops, as if the result of some maternal voodoo that taunts fathers. She reaches out for Valerie, who instantly switches into mother mode. Valerie reaches out for ZoElizabeth, and (dried vomit and all) smothers her with kisses.
I will say this about Valerie–despite all of our troubles, she never lays into me when we have ZoElizabeth between us. That’s especially nice with this unstructured caretaking arrangement that we have right now. Valerie plays fair. If I kept a list of the reasons why I still love my wife, playing fair ranks about ninth. There’s at least eight things even better. That’s how wonderful she was. How wonderful she is.
Valerie’s tone is careful to me. Not caring, but rather, careful.
“We changed the lock this afternoon,” she says, very matter-of-fact. The 8E door is still not completely open. Valerie stands there, blocking me from entering.
I ask for the new key. There isn’t one. There isn’t going to be one.
Up until now, the separation has been amicable. It has been informal. It has hopefully been temporary. We agreed that until I could restore more security and stability back to our personal life that I made more insecure and more instable, then I should be given some space.
Now, it occurs to me, maybe it was Valerie who really needed the space.
Changing door locks speaks volumes–even when Valerie’s words have no volume.
“Don’t read so much into this, Kevin,” explains Valerie. “You always read too much into things.”
She’s right. I know that much about me. I didn’t need some $300 per hour couples counselor to make me realize that. I read too much much into things, especially when a strange man answers the door.
“So, that guy who opened the door…”
Part of me wanted to ask. Part of me didn’t want to have to ask.
It’s like a game of chicken between husband and wife to see who flinches first. Valerie says nothing. Instead, at that moment, she makes funny faces that bring a smile to ZoElizabeth’s face. ZoElizabeth presses herself against Valerie’s bosom where it’s safe and warm. Same place that I would turn to feel safe and warm.
I sputter out a question, “Tell me you’re not seeing him.”
I said “seeing him”, but she knew I meant “sleeping with him”.
Valerie glares at me with those piercing blue-green eyes. Eyes inside which I felt both safe and lost while gazing at her across candlelight on many pre-ZoElizabeth evening. Back when we could afford to pick restaurant choices randomly from our Zagat Guide.
Valerie tells me that she decided that a temporary roommate could help us shoulder the costs of renting two crappy apartments instead of one crappy apartment. She tells me that she feels safer with another man around the apartment since I’m not around now. She tells me that Joe is a nanny who recently finished looking after someone else’s kid in the building. She tells me that she had always seen Joe around and he was good to people. She tells me that Joe has turned the living room into his own bedroom. She tells me that Joe is gay.
None of that really assures me whatsoever. I don’t really picture any guy named Joe working as a nanny, wearing pink, and watching reality TV shows on Bravo. But then, I remember Tony Danza on “Who’s the Boss?”.
And that has me really worried.
“Then why change the lock?”
“Joe feels safer that way.”
“Joe feels safer? Or you feel safer?”
“Stop making a big deal out of this,” Valerie says with a twinge of annoyance. It actually makes me happy that she might be annoyed. If I’m going to get annoyed, then she should get annoyed, too.
Valerie begins to sway back and forth, and sings a lullaby for ZoElizabeth.
We stare at each other. We’re arguing telepathically. I’m quietly losing this argument.
The silence is broken by someone jumping out of the elevator. It’s Marcus! He sprints toward me and practically leaps onto me like a puppy in bad need of obedience training.
But Marcus looks genuinely happy to see me. At least someone does. Even though we’ve only been separated for like 10 minutes. He woke up, paid the cab, bribed Sam to let him inside, and took the elevator to every single floor in search of me.
I return my attention to Valerie, but the 8E door is now closed. I can hear the new door lock click.
I have a key. It used to open up my former apartment—and my former wife. Now, it’s just a worthless keepsake.
Before he gets me into further trouble tonight, I push Marcus back toward the elevator. Instead of going to his hotel, he wants to follow me back to my other crappy apartment in Brooklyn.
On the taxicab ride home, while I ignore Marcus’ newest gibberish with the newest, unfortunate taxicab driver, I dream that I am Tony Danza. At least Tony found a job, took care of his kid, and found love again.
Damn it. I can’t get the theme song from “Who’s The Boss?” out of my head. It’s a wonder that I even remember it. Under the right circumstances, it’s amazing what you can remember that you didn’t know you already knew.
There’s a time for love and a time for living.
You take a chance and face the wind.
An open road and a road that’s hidden
A brand new life around the bend.
There were times when I lost a dream or two.
Found the trail, and at the end was you.
There’s a path you take and a path untaken
The choice is up to you my friend.
Nights are long but you’re on your way
To a brand new life,
Brand new life,
Brand new life around the bend.