|Susan Whiteman | June 30, 2012 | Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
In an effort to keep my faculties intact, I’d spent the past week phoning the half-dozen or so single women I knew and liked, alerting each to the fact that my marriage was ending and much would change. “Would you like to go out?” I asked. The response from each was the same: “Sure!”
At least I could counter my overwhelming feeling of failure and loneliness with small bubbles of hope.
I also had sought the advice of a therapist during the preceding week. I spoke with my wife’s therapist, figuring he already had a line on our problems. “Be kind to yourself,” he told me. “Spend time with your friends. And take extra B vitamins. Your body burns through it when you’re under stress.”
Odd though it may sound now, in 1983 there was a health-food department at Albany’s Colonie Center Sears. I sought a bottle of B vitamins there and fell into a conversation with a delightful sales clerk who told me her name was Lisa. “You’re great fun to talk to,” I told her. “Would you like to go out?” “Sure!” she said. We set a date for July 1. I’d meet her after she got off work at 9.
Logistics intruded. My ex-wife-to-be took the Volkswagen she owned, leaving me car-less. I had to take the poky number 55 bus from Schenectady, where I lived in the Stockade region, to Wolf Road, and arrived several minutes after the time we’d set, with no recourse to the gadgetry that now allows us to report our every move.
“I’d almost given up on you,”said Lisa, who drove us to the nearby Desmond Americana, where we sipped wine and nibbled cheese as I discoursed at boring length about my unhappy life and forthcoming divorce. The poor young woman was more than kind, offering sympathetic clucks as I expounded. But I went on long enough to miss the last bus to Schenectady. It was after 1 AM. I couldn’t think of anyone to call. Lisa lived with her parents, and our new relationship hardly offered the basis for any kind of overnight.
“A friend who lives down the street from me, is working as the DJ at Quintessence tonight,” I remembered. “Can you drop me off there?”
Ellen McKinnon made a name for herself as a driving force at rock station WQBK, and would go on (after getting canned for no apparent reason that year) to make a killer station out of WEQX in Vermont. We had the world of radio in common, although my deejaying had been at classical-music station WMHT. I made my way past the noisy booths and crowded dance floor of the silver diner and found her in the cramped kitchen. Sure, she’d give me a ride home. But she wouldn’t be leaving until 4:30.
It was a time of “Billie Jean” and “She Blinded Me with Science,” which I sought to avoid by strolling around the neighborhood for a lonely while. Soon enough I have up and huddled in the kitchen, telling stories of my own days working in kitchens to my long-suffering friend.
We were joined by a group of Ellen’s friends, just back from a concert by Eric Clapton at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. It made for a crush of bodies, but I couldn’t help but notice that one of the bodies was pleasingly female-formed, the rest of her a blue-eyed strawberry blonde. “Who’s that?” I asked Ellen, who introduced us.
Susan currently was in the restaurant business, working as day chef at the Beverwyck on Albany’s Lark Street. The attraction I felt was overwhelming and instantaneous. We talked of food and cooking. The fellow who seemed to be her date also seemed not very interested in her. I later would learn that he was a bartender at her restaurant, and shared Susan’s interest in boys.
“All this talk of food is making me hungry,” I said, boldly suggesting we find something to eat. Susan knew of an all-night joint called The Egg and You and drove us there in her small red Dodge. She knew a little about me: she’d heard me on the radio, and seen me at a concert in her native Spencertown, which I recorded for subsequent broadcast. Over omelettes and toast, I talked of my failed marriage, my creative ambitions, my uncomfortable state of unemployment, and learned next to nothing about her. I didn’t need to. My infatuation had sizzled now throughout my entirety, and I believed I knew everything there was to know about this charming creature.
When she dropped me back at Quintessence, I got her phone number. I didn’t use it right away. I’d arranged for a ride to see friends in Connecticut, and the ride left at 6 AM. I got home after 5. My wife had taken the alarm clock. I stayed up.
I ranted in the car about this Susan I’d just met. When I got together with my friends, I continued to rant. It was a long holiday weekend. I joined other friends to enjoy fireworks on a Westport beach. I couldn’t stop talking about this Susan.
“Go back and see her,” my friend Harry advised. “See if she’s all you’ve made her out to be.”
Excellent advice, supported by the forty bucks he slipped me to buy a bus trip back. I hurried myself from the Albany Trailways station to Lark Street, just in time to catch Susan closing up the Beverwyck kitchen at the end of her shift. “Want to go out tonight?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. We went to a movie and late dinner. I told her I was going to marry her. I would surmount the technical problem of being already married. I would surmount the emotional problem of being hot on the rebound. Add to the lovesickness I suffered a capacity for ironclad stubbornness, and you can see part of the reason we’re married and still together after 29 years.
The rest of the reason? She’s tolerant as hell.