One of the things that makes waiting to die a somewhat bittersweet experience is my girlfriend Lauren, though I’m sure she would object to being called “a thing.” No, she is both my dream girl and the answer to this old man’s unspoken prayers. I don’t know how I would have survived these past few years without her loving care and all the many things she has done for me during this time to keep the ship of Ring afloat. So it sometimes makes me melancholy when I think that when I die, I will have to leave her behind since the practice of suttee does not seem to be in her repertoire. I will miss her dearly when the time comes for me to take up residence elsewhere.
Lauren and I met online in March, 2015, just as she was about to leave her home in Piedmont, California in order to join her son, Rob, a flight surgeon in the Navy, in Florida where he was to get his “wings.” Lauren is, like me, an e-mail junkie, and in the first month of our correspondence, before we had met, we exchanged no fewer than 200 messages, some quite lengthy. I had obviously met my match and the epistolary girl of my dreams. We fell in love writing to each other, but of course we didn’t even know each other — we were only words on a screen. All she knew about me by then was that I had apparently been married a dozen times and had had innumerable affairs. I feared this one would turn out to be an affair to dismember.
Lauren is a therapist and like all therapists she had been seeing one for years. Of course, it’s a game all therapists play — a racket, in my jaundiced opinion, but never mind. In any case, I imagined the dialogue that would take place when Lauren finally got back home and had a chance to have her next appointment with her therapist.
I call her E. here, which stands for Eliza, my pet name for her, as I often play the insufferable Henry Higgins when we are together for reasons you will soon come to appreciate...
T. Let’s see if I can get this straight, Eliza. Are you telling me that you’ve fallen in love with an old man – pushing 80 -– that you’ve never met and have only corresponded with for the last couple of weeks or so?
E. I know it sounds mad…
T. (interrupting) And that he’s a Jewish retired professor who has apparently made a career of studying arrant nonsense like near-death experiences and other such pap?
E. Well, I haven’t had a chance to look into any of that yet.
T. You mean you only have his word for all this? You haven’t even Googled him?
E. I really haven’t had time. I’ve been so busy.
T. Not so busy that you apparently, according to what you told me over the phone, couldn’t be writing to him night and day, dozens of e-mail notes and letters, isn’t that true?
E. Well, yes, but...
T. (interrupting again) And didn’t you tell me that this old coot has, according to what he’s told you, had innumerable lovers and at least four, maybe five, wives already?
E. He’s admitted that. He seems pretty honest...
T. Ha! Eliza, don’t be naïve. He sounds like an amatory serial killer to me. What in hell are you thinking? That you’ll be number 25?
T. (continuing, as Eliza has fallen mute) And didn’t you tell me that this guy is, to put it gently, visually challenged and possibly now suffering from some kind of neurological impairment? Are you so addled and besotted that you have forgotten what you went through all those years with Michael?
E. Well, don’t I at least deserve a few years of happiness before I die? This man really loves me. I know it and I trust what he says.
T. You know what they say about love, Eliza – that it’s blind. Didn’t you admit to me that in a loose and unwise moment – maybe when you had drunk too much – that you had indicated to him that you were well-off financially?
E. Well, yes, but...
T. That you even unwisely, for God knows what reason, told him about the diamond mines in your family?
E. I just blurted it out. I know I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it.
T. Good Lord, Eliza. How do you know that this Ken is not like some character out of a Henry James novel and is just after your money? What do you know about his financial circumstances?
E. It’s never come up. Besides...
T. (interrupting again) Have you even talked to anyone who knows this man? Anyone who can vouch for him? What about those ex-wives of his? I bet they could give you an earful.
E. (crying) Please – you just don’t know him. If you could read what he writes to me.
T. Really, Eliza, anyone can write anything. And a seductive guy like him could easily tell you exactly what you want to hear. For Chrissake, you haven’t even met the guy -- not that that would answer most of these questions – and you’re already almost ready to shack up with him?
E. Don’t put it that way. It’s so vulgar.
T. I think I’ve said enough for now. Please think about what I’ve said and please don’t do anything rash. If you decide to explore this, despite all the warning signs and cautions I’ve mentioned, don’t make any decisions without first consulting me, all right? Do you agree?
E. (reluctantly) All right.
T. I’ll see you next time. Better make it in a week before you run off to Mexico with your inamorato.
Well, Lauren never ran off with me to Mexico, but she did take up with me after all, despite her reasonable doubts about my amatory history and character. And I can say honestly and truly, I have never been happier with any relationship. Lauren is a blessing to me in every way, and guess what, she is not only a superlative cook, a veritable Eloise around the house, but she is literate, charming, fun to be with (in bed and outside of it), and eminently educable about which I will have quite a bit to say in a few moments. And you know what else? She loves to laugh. She writes very amusing e-mail, too. She is a master of drollery and la aperçu juste. Occasionally, she even appears to appreciate my attempts at humor, though I do sometimes have the feeling that inwardly she is laughing at me and gently mocking my admittedly quirky sense of humor.
Of course, Lauren is not without a few flaws that blemish her otherwise sterling character. For one thing, she is an ignoramus about film. Apparently Bambi was the last film she had ever seen, so I have spent the last several years conducting a remedial film course for her during which I have introduced her to all the classic American and Foreign films she somehow missed during the course of her adulthood, including virtually every film that Woody Allen ever made. Still, the depth of her ignorance can sometimes be astonishing.
Case in point: Just last night, we were watching one of Woody's relatively recent films, Whatever Works, starring Larry David. At the end, Lauren asked me, "Who was that actor that played the lead?"
“You mean Larry David?”
“Is that his name?”
"You mean, you don’t know who Larry David is??! Do the words, Curb Your Enthusiasm ring any bells?”
Lauren looked blank. I convulsed in laughter, and soon she was having a laughing fit herself. I laughed until it hurt and tears were streaming down my cheeks.
You can see what I’m up against.
Not long ago, knowing how much I enjoy playing cribbage when my daughter Kathryn visits me, Lauren asked me if I could teach her. Alas, Lauren had a very deprived childhood. Not being Jewish, which wasn’t her fault, she grew up never playing cards and continued to call spades “shovels” for a while. But worse was yet to come. It turned out that while Lauren is a wordsmith, she apparently can’t count. In cribbage, you have to see certain combinations of cards, such as a run of 3,3,4,5. But Lauren never seems to be able to see these sets as such. It was as if she could only see the individual cards one at a time, but rarely as a gestalt. A single hand that would normally take five minutes would sometime take seventeen. Lauren is very deliberate.
There’s a part of cribbage when each player lays down his or her cards, and the points of each card add up. The total can’t exceed 31. If a player can’t play a card under that value, he or she has to say “Go,” and the opponent then gets a point. No card is worth more than ten points (all face cards, for example).
One night a sequence started like this:
I played a 7.
Lauren played a 2, making nine points.
I played a 6, making fifteen.
Lauren shouted “Go!”
I cracked up! She almost had to keep me from falling off my chair.
Lauren also has certain delightful eccentricities. For example, when we take our walks, she will invariably spot a worm and make sure it is kept from clods like me who are apt not even to see it and therefore stomp on it unknowingly. She will risk life and limb to break her car savagely to attend to any road kill that hasn’t yet expired. Or to lovingly bury any who have. At her home in Piedmont, she maintains a menagerie that includes not only the usual birds and squirrels, but raccoons and even skunks (!) all of which she feeds and cares for. I will spare you the story about what happened when one of her local skunks decided to pay a visit to her kitchen.
Well, we do love people for their eccentricities (as long as they don’t drive us mad), and some of her colossal lacunae in her education do fulfill my irresistible proclivity for displaying my perfect imitation of Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.
But I’ll tell you something else. Five or so years before I met Lauren, when I was unhappy with my last relationship, I made out a list of what I desire in a woman. Here’s what I wrote at the time.
What I Want (and Don’t) in a Relationship
1. Shared intellectual interests -- in music, literature, art, film, politics, history, Palestine, near-death experiences, spirituality, sports, etc.
1a. Especially going to classical music concerts, opera, the movies, and eating out.
1b. And is physically active and basically in good health.
2. Appreciation for my writing and need to write.
3. Someone who is fun to be with -- light, funny, romantic.
3a. Someone whose company I delight in and with whom I can have lively and intellectually rewarding conversation.
3b. And to whom I am sexually attracted.
3c. And has a good, preferably quirky, sense of humor.
5. Someone who is monogamous, loyal, trustworthy, fundamentally honest and true-blue.
6. Someone who can drive at night.
7. Someone who can cook.
8. Someone who appreciates how much my friendships, especially my friendships with women, mean to me and who is not jealous of them.
9. Someone who respects my need to be alone at times.
9a. And who would be OK with my retaining my own place to live.
10. Someone who has her own creative life, her own circle of friends and is basically independent.
11. Someone who can tolerate my eccentric ways and bodily preoccupations.
12. Someone who, if necessary, could be a good caretaker and who, if the situation calls for it, could be nurturant.
13. Someone who likes or at least can get along with my friends and family.
14. Someone who can be happy with mostly intra-California and domestic traveling -- which is not to say that some traveling abroad wouldn’t be possible, my health permitting.
15. Someone who is basically self-supporting.
And guess what again? Lauren satisfies every one of these criteria. That’s why I say she’s my dream girl. I dreamed her up, and now I have the girl of my dreams.
It’s enough to make a man think twice about waiting to die.
If I can’t change my mind, well, at least I can dally. With Lauren there is just too much fun to think about death, even though I sometimes think I will die laughing after she makes another risible blunder while playing cribbage. There are, I suppose, worse ways to die.
Here’s a direct link to Ken's new book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1627876987ref_=pe_3052080_397514860