Meet me at the Avalon Hotel and assume an alternate identity, I instructed.
Marriage can be deeply unsexy. You know the litany: kids, bills, colds, flus, weight gain and various bodily functions. Time and familiarity can often breed, perhaps not contempt, but certainly boredom. Which is why, with my fourteen-year anniversary approaching, I decided to kick the sexy up a notch. When my husband, Henry, came home from taking our daughters to soccer practice last week our babysitter was waiting for him with an unexpected note from me. In it I asked him to dress for a first date. This meant no orthopedic tennis shoes, white socks or scratchy facial stubble.
Then I directed him to meet me in the bar at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills at 8 p.m. sharp, telling him—and this is key—that we would not know each other and had to assume alternate identities.
I instructed him if he arrived first to order me a Grey Goose martini straight-up with two olives and dirty. Because that seemed like something Lauren Bacall would have drunk in her heyday, accompanied by a Havana thin cigar. Unfortunately, I arrived first and had to order my own martini, then commenced to choke on one of the olives, causing dirty vodka to spray out of my nose. Could this be a harbinger of doom re: my marital tête-à-tête? Was this a really stupid idea?
The minutes driveled by. Henry was late. Did he get my note? Did the babysitter open it, read it and quit? Maybe he just wasn't coming? I'd floated this idea by Henry over the years and his response had been, at best, lackluster. As I waited I began to feel a bit ridiculous in my low-cut little black dress, complimented by stiletto hooker heels. (See below for photographic evidence.) Earlier they'd seemed hot; now they seemed a bit pathetic.
But wait. Was that...?
Henry had arrived! He strode through the lounge not looking at me once, but going straight to the bar to order a beer! Henry doesn't drink. He can't drink. Alcohol gives him blinding migraines. Could it be my reserved, buttoned-up husband was going for it? But why wasn't he looking at me? I whistled at him. He didn't turn around. WTF? Was he deaf? Didn't he see me? Waiters and busboys were falling into my cleavage never to be heard from again. My hemline was so short the concierge basically offered to give me a full Brazilian wax. How could Henry miss me? Would I have to whistle again? Just put my lips together and blow like my muse Bacall? Henry turned. Our eyes met. He looked at me quizzically. He was really going to go through with this! My heart melted.
"Are you Crystal?" he asked.
Crystal? Crystal? That's the best he could do? I hated Crystal. It reminded me of chakras and auras. Shouldn't we be able to pick our own names? I had planned to be Georgia, a techie from the south who also knew how to make marzipan and drive a back-hoe. But I had to take Tina Fey's advice about improvisation. You never say "no." You always say, "Yes, and ..."
"Yes," I said bitterly, "I'm Crystal and ...?"
"I'm Paul," he said. Paul. I could live with that. Pauls are tall and broad-shouldered. Let's face it, Pauls are macho. I didn't want to be married to macho, but wouldn't mind visiting.
"So, Crystal," Paul said, making himself comfortable on the couch next to me, "I feel like I know you already from your ... videos."
Sweet mother of God. It turns out I was going to be a porn star.
I DID NOT WANT TO BE A PORN STAR! But I sensed the spirit of Tina Fey hovering, so I said, "Yes, I did work as an adult performer in my misspent youth, but, I was such a classy, intellectual porn star, whose demographic was college-educated women who preferred erotica to misogynistic, penis-centered porn, that I was able to create my own sex brand, turn it into a thriving production company that raked in so much money that I was able to retire early to Tampa where I own several properties, including a baseball team."
"Oh," said Paul. Flummoxed. We had nowhere to go but up. And so we did. Turns out Paul was also disillusioned by his profession as a porn producer, had just gotten divorced from one of his starlets and was looking for deeper meaning in life. (Unfortunately he made a bad porn-pun with the word "deeper." But let's face it, I was a Sure Thing.)
Soon we moved to the restaurant where I couldn't help snarfing down a pizza with prosciutto and finishing off Paul's beer as we got to know each other better. Paul was born in Portland, Maine apparently, but his father was a blimp operator so they moved around a lot. In fact, his father piloted the first ever Goodyear blimp all over the country, which I thought must have been magical.
"Well," said Paul abjectly, "It might have been, except that my mom found out my dad had a girl in every Blimp port. We called them The Blimpees."
Paul thought it was his father's duplicitous life - there are an unknown number of Blimpee kids across the U.S. - that caused him to turn to the dark business of the flesh trade. He had no children, but I informed him that I had two sons from a high school relationship with a drug dealer. My boys thought I was their wicked, fallen, older sister. I secretly paid for their private school educations with my ill-gotten gains, but I would never tell them. Sacrifice just came naturally to me; I was a Jezebel with a heart of gold.
After a while Henry and I became Paul and Crystal.
We saw each other differently. We smiled at each other differently. I laughed at all of his jokes and didn't reprimand him for eating mashed potatoes that would just add to the belly fat that was a widow-maker. When we touched across the restaurant table it felt as if we were touching for the very first time. It was electric. In fact, it went so well that we had to leave the restaurant before dessert. I asked him if he'd like to go somewhere a bit more private and he readily agreed.
I led him away from the restaurant and around the corner to Beverly Drive where our minivan was parked and clicked to open the sliding door. Inside I'd created a pallet perfect for two strangers on a rendezvous with passion. (Although we did accidentally collide with a stray soccer ball and pair of cleats.) This is where I'll Fade To Black...Paul and Crystal deserve a little privacy.
I learned in a whole new way that marriage takes effort. It's easy to be lazy and tired and uninspired. I really had no idea how this date experiment would go. I worried we'd feel like idiots and just give up the quest. But it went so well that Henry said he'd be the one to leave me a note the next time. I think the best thing this experiment did for me was allow me a certain distance with which to observe the man who is my husband. I remembered why I'd thought he was so adorable in the first place. I saw him through fresh, albeit porn star eyes.
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