Beginning of a beautiful friendship

September 03, 1998|By KEVIN COWHERD

THE FIRST TIME he saw her, it was in a noisy bar crowded with college kids, Lou Reed on the jukebox and the cigarette smoke swirling around the ceiling in great, puffy clouds.

He sent a drink over to her table. Then, smooth as velvet, with a tasteful amount of Hai Karate splashed on, he walked up to her and blurted: "You doing anything Friday? We should go out."

She didn't say yes, but she didn't say no, either. Her friends looked at him the way you'd look at a worm in your garden salad. But at the end of the evening, she jotted down the number of the phone in her dorm and pressed it into his hand.

On their first date, because he was class all the way, he took her to this hole-in-the-wall where they served hamburgers the size of throw pillows and pitchers of Bud on tap for a buck and a half.

They spent a couple of hours talking about nothing and laughing a little too loudly at each other's jokes, the way you do on a first date.

Things were going along splendidly. Then after an hour or so, the door flew open and three very drunk men in hunting gear walked in dragging a dead deer behind them.

"Oh, no," he thought, for he knew the three men, and now he was praying they wouldn't recognize him, lest she think he hung around with such riffraff.

Naturally, he was the first one they spotted.

"KC!" they cried, holding up the deer. "Come and have a drink with ol' Ned here!"

As a general rule of thumb, dragging a dead deer in the door is frowned upon in most establishments. But here, the bartender was about 126 years old and he barely looked up from the Racing Form at all the commotion. This was just as well, since by now the three men had propped the deer at a table and stuffed a Miller nip in its mouth.

He thought the whole scene would freak her out, but all she said was: "You have interesting friends."

Then she smiled, and at that moment he thought: Hmmm, we may have something very special here.

They went together for three years. She liked Woody Allen

movies and seafood restaurants, the Stones and Van Morrison, and so did he. She liked his deranged friends and Holmes, his 165-pound St. Bernard, and did not seem to mind all the softball leagues and basketball leagues he was in.

One fine spring day, as he sat in the sunny kitchen of her apartment, he felt something welling inside him.

He felt the need to unburden himself, to testify, and before he could beat the words back, he heard himself say: "You doing anything in September? We should get married."

She looked at him and was silent for a moment.

Finally she said: "Yeah, we should probably do that. No dead deer at the reception, though."

Deer or no deer, life with this woman was always an adventure.

On the morning of the wedding, the phone rang in his hotel room. She was calling from her mother's house.

"There's a problem with the marriage license," she said, the panic making her voice rise as she thought of 100 guests, a catered reception and no wedding. "It's got the wrong date. We need to find a judge to sign a waiver form."

Well. You try finding a judge on Labor Day weekend. For two hours they raced around Long Island in his Camaro like Starsky and Hutch until they tracked down the only judge on the Eastern Seaboard who didn't play golf.

But finally they were married in a big stone church on the South Shore, by a priest with kind, green eyes. The reception went off without a hitch, too, although the impromptu limbo contest with a coat rack had made the maitre d's eyes grow wide with fear.

Late that night, when they were finally alone, slumped in a banquette of the restaurant on top of their hotel, the glittering lights of the seaside resort winking far below them, she said: "I wonder if married life is always this exhausting."

"We're about to find out," he said. "How do you feel?"

"I feel good," she said. "And you?"

"Not bad at all."

The years passed in a wonderful blur. They both changed jobs twice. They moved from New York state to Baltimore. They had three kids, and none of them makes you want to look up the phone number of a bail bondsman.

The other day, they celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. In the soft twilight of a perfect summer's evening, they sat on the deck with a couple of drinks and watched the moon come up and thought about all they'd been through, and all that still lay ahead.

It was all he could do not to splash on some Hai Karate, for old time's sake.

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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