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Part III — the Magic Word

I continue the story of how we met, and how I finally ended up at a doctor who told me what I needed  (but not necessarily wanted) to hear.

Shortly before the jdate sparks started flying, a friend of mine from Providence moved to a suburb of Philadelphia to seek his fortune. Jeff was crashing on his brother’s couch near Ambler until he found his own way. Having been out to see Jeff once before, I welcomed this excuse to make a three hundred mile sojourn and meet the mystery boy while ostensibly being under the guise of chaperone-ship from Jeff. The cuddly gay man was going to protect me from the 135-lb beanpole, should he prove to be other than the sensitive man his profile portrayed him to be. The date for a visit was set for the last weekend of April 2003.

My packing list for this voyage, as inscribed in my journal:

To bring to Philly:
cookies/baked goods/matzah ball soup
appliance bulb (for Mr. Apron’s defunct oven light)
books for Mr. Apron (for the cross-state lending library)
$ for gas, tolls
AHWOSG (the Dave Eggers book “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which Mr. Apron had lent to me)
CDs & CD player & cassette adaptor (Mr. Apron burned CDs for me but I had only a tape-player in my car)

Fortunately, my brief tenure (7 days, two hours) at a $9/hr data entry job (typing up mortgage deeds) was terminated when I literally fell asleep from sheer boredom at 11am despite large quantities of Dr. Pepper. That week, I had also received my rejection letter from Teach For America, dashing hopes of gainful employ in the immediate future. Pittsburgh thus holding no real occupational prospects on the horizon, I felt a new freedom as I set off across the state on the first of many trips down the well-worn Pennsylvania Turnpike. There ought to now be a rest stop named after us, for the quantity of tolls we have donated to Penn DOT. Eleven dollars and sixty-five cents in tolls later, plus another $175.00 for a certain eager lovebird’s first speeding ticket, I arrived at Jeff’s brother’s apartment The next morning, after a surprisingly restful sleep, Jeff and I set off cavorting around the northern suburbs of Philly, hitting the malls, the hair salons, and getting psyched up for the meeting that evening. Mr. Apron’s optician schedule at Sterling Optical was such that he faithfully worked every Sabbath, and in turn was rewarded with a Sunday-Monday weekend. That night, after he closed up shop, Mr. Apron headed home to canine Finley to await our arrival at his apartment in Wayne. Arrive we did, in my cute little PT Cruiser. We ascended to the third floor semi-loft, met Finley for the first time, and, oh yeah, Mr. Apron. Things were a little tense as Mr. Apron shoved antibiotics down Finley’s throat and I stood up from petting the dog and realized I now had a film of grey fur on my formerly clean light tan “I love Buns” t-shirt. Nonetheless, neither of us was a 60 year old Chinese woman and that counted as a success.

Jeff had invited two friends to join the party to ease the presumed awkwardness, so we all set off for the King of Prussia Mall, the largest mall on the Eastern Seaboard (second nationally in size only to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota). In the parking lot of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Restaurant (featured prominently in the 2002 Michael Moore film “Bowling for Columbine”), the other members of the party – we’ll call them Alex and Schmalex – pulled up and the five decided unanimously NOT to eat at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Restaurant. Because Mr. Apron knew the lay of the land better than the others, he led the caravan back to Wayne, back to the Main Line, and found Minella’s Diner, a greasy spoon reminiscent of a time when Wayne was an affordable place to live and restaurants weren’t called “Spice” and “Nectar” and “Pomme de Foie Gras”. Though he committed the vegetarian solecism of ordering eggs and Canadian bacon for dinner, I nonetheless saw the man for who he was, not what garbage he put in his body.

The next 24 hours were filled with pre-recorded broadcasts of “Cookin’ Cheap”, Mr. Apron’s favorite cooking show, visits to South Street, where I no longer felt like a freak, dining at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, the likes of which I had never eaten before, and a trip to the Mutter Museum, full of medical curiosities, oddities, and the best of the grotesque, including giant colons, two-headed turtles, and a human horn. Mr. Apron’s wry wit kept me laughing the entire time as we zoomed around town in Mr. Apron’s 2001 Herbie the Love Bug. On the way to return me to Jeff’s brother’s apartment, I almost started crying in the car because the weekend of wonder and validation and joy was coming to an end, and all that spanned in front of me was the bleak, jobless world of Pittsburgh.

Part IIIb “How I Finally Got a Job Teaching in the Philly Area and Could Justify Moving to be Closer to Mr. Apron”

I spent a year in Pittsburgh, finishing up my college degree and trying fruitlessly to secure full-time employment. It was a year of working as a receptionist of a comedy club 21 hours a week for minimum wage, answering phones, messing up the ticket-ordering applet the owner had created, and being harassed for being Jewish. Plus TV. A lot of TV. When the phone wasn’t ringing, I would watch the back-to-back tear-jerking triumvirate of A Dating Story, A Wedding Story, and A Baby Story on TLC. Now you know why we still don’t have cable. I tried to get full-time work. I just couldn’t believe that a college degree from a top-tier university would be worthless. And yet it most definitively was. I was rejected from mall jobs, ignored by non-profits, and told by photographers looking for assistants that I was too well educated. Finally a temp agency hired me for the ambiguous “$9-10/hr to start, administrative” job. As I said, I lasted 7 days. The job had something to do with mortgages, though exactly what, I still don’t know. I knew that we took pre-printed packets of papers on which someone had highlighted key bits of information, and put those numbers or words, or descriptions in a computer application. At the end of this, we pushed submit, and it printed out in some remote corner of the office. Walking to the printer was as exciting as it got. Then someone who was paid maybe $11/hour looked them over for typos and sent them back. Once I patiently sat as a supervisor carefully showed me a print-out I had not generated to point out all the typos and mistakes I had not made, so I could learn from them. I was not fired on that Tuesday I fell asleep; my “assignment was terminated”. Though I had no job and no prospects, I had that visit to Mr. Apron to look forward to.

Once we had met and fallen hopelessly in love in person, it was clear I needed to focus my job search on the Philadelphia area. That way I could justify a move out here and still have a back-up “just in case”. Because a girl needs that. A modern feminist doesn’t just pick up and move out to be with a boy. She has a job in place first, an apartment of her own, and a plan.

Well, I received as many rejections from Philly jobs as I had thus far in Pittsburgh, with one exception. I faxed over an application on a Monday to a small Quaker elementary school that was looking for a preschool assistant teacher. They called me on Wednesday to invite me to interview the following Monday. It just so happened I was going to Baltimore for my cousin Paul’s 100th birthday (June 6, 1903. send him a card — this year was 106) that weekend, so I took a small detour up to Philly, crashed with Mr. Apron, interviewed Monday morning, and had an offer by that afternoon.

I moved out here August 1st,2003, to a “jr 1-bedroom” apartment in a 100-year-old house that had been converted to apartments and stripped of all personality. And grass. My landlord did not enjoy the finer aspects of property maintenance, so he had taken it upon himself to pav every square inch of the lot on which that house stood. Need I mention we had ample off-street parking? There was even a defunct pick-up truck in the back lot with weeds growing out of the bed. We had some pictures of Finley staring at us pitifully from the bed of the truck, asking why we put him in there.

All was sprinkles and rainbow balloons. I was employed, albeit on a meager salary, and courting my future husband. We went hiking in the surrounding state parks, shopping on the Main Line, and took trips into Philly to see plays and walk around the various neighborhoods of Manayunk, Chestnut Hill, South Street, Old City, and Society Hill.

One evening, having walked the entirety of South Street, we approached Penn’s Landing, which at that point overlooks the Delaware River, and all the romantic refineries of southern Jersey. I remember the wind whipping up around us, perched so high above the riverfront, or maybe that’s the way I want to remember it because of the way I clung to Mr. Apron, my face buried in his bony chest, as I had a tongue spasm. It was one of exactly 2 I had in his presence, but this was the first, and the scariest. He had no idea what was happening to his girlfriend, to this child he’d courted from across the state. I’m sure I gave him my standard I’m-not-going-to-be-able-to-talk-for-one-minute spiel, but I don’t think he bought the I’ll-be-just-fine line I also delivered. Afterwards, we stood face-to-face (or face-to-nipple-line, due to our height differential), and we talked. He asked me to go see a doctor, his doctor, the octogenarian whom his whole family had trusted for 3 generations, from his great-grandmother who put on make-up for his housecalls to his finicky never-trusts-any-doctor sister. You recall I had heard this before, and that I kind of knew something was wrong with me that a doctor needed to address. And you also recall that I had successfully (open to interpretation) ignored, suppressed, and hidden my spasms for 8 years. What was different about this time? Mr. Apron said please. He looked at me with caring eyes, eyes that had only known me six months, and literally said, “Please.”

When I think of that word, of “please”, I think first of little children being cajoled into saying the “magic word” to seal the deal on whatever junk food, carnival ride, privilege or playdate they’ve requested. I think of the value we place on not just politeness, but on how that word allegedly unlocks these dire appeals for an ice cream sundae. I think also of the etymology, because I’m first and foremost a linguistics nerd. I think of plaintive “pleas” made before a judge, begging for mercy or leniency, entreaties for action. That’s the way Mr. Apron asked me to see Dr. Lander. After 8 years of hiding, ignoring, and denying, I picked up the phone and made the call to see Dr. Lander, the call that would set off a series of events bringing me to and beyond brain surgery. All because he said, “Please.”

To this day, “please” remains a magic word in our home. It signifies a change in tone when we’re arguing, discussing, or going over important things. When Mr. Apron and I talk about career change, or baby-making, or making important phonecalls, or mailing important packages, all it takes is for the other to say, “Please”. It cuts through the excuses, through the procrastination, and gets right to the meat of the matter. It says, simply, “I need you to do this because I love you and this is important to both of us.” It really is a magic word.