Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A rare, random follow-up post

Marisa and I were sort of randomly talking this weekend about stuff, and I remembered a post I wrote a long time ago (well, relatively speaking) about the five things I was looking for in a partner.

After some blog-searching, I found it.

This one right here.

Anyway, I turned out to be eight things. So while we were laughing about it, I thought I'd run down the list right here. A sort of update.

It started out as a survey (I got tagged by Freak). So what'd I write?

1. She should be able to put up with me.
Check. I knew she was a keeper when she bought into the whole monkey thing.

2. She should be attractive to me.
Check. Beautiful. And yet delightfully not perfect. But perfect to, and for, me.

3. We should have shared interests.
Check. Ish. We like some of the same things, and are often interested in the other things the other likes. See No. 5 below.

4. We should be able to communicate and/or compromise.
Check. Despite the fact that, well, she can be stubborn as a mule. And y'all know me. But we do love talking with each other.

5. She should be able to teach me things.
Check. Vegetarian cooking, traveling to interesting places and much more.

6. She must, must, must must, must be faithful.
Check. This is probably even more important to her than to me.

7. She must not have a father who hates me or potentially could hate me.
Check. So far, so good. He's a really nice guy. Keep your fingers crossed.

8. She should be independent.
Check. I've got to get used to the twentysomething love of the text message and cell phone, but otherwise, all's good. I need to be alone to do something, she leaves me alone. And vice versa.

Oh, and 9. She should be able to drive.
Check. She likes driving even more than me.

And you want to hear the oddest thing?

I answered that survey Feb. 6, 2006. Almost exactly a year to the day we went on our first date (Feb. 3, 2007). Isn't that bizarre?

Friday, May 25, 2007

The things we learn...

With apologies for my usual delay between posts, and the usual excuses (promotion at work, wedding planning), I speed onward.

Recently, I had the honor of getting a Thinking Blogger Award from Stewie.

He said:

"3. Life on the Rim — While he’s been making me gag with his new girlfriend posts, Ace sometimes throws out some Civil War trivia, among other little tidbits. I’m not much into the Civil War history, but Ace never bores me with his posts about it."

So instead of posting about the girlfriend/fiancee, I figure I'll pay tribute by posting something more intellectual, along with my own five nominees.

The only problem is, of course, of the dozen or so blogs I read regularly, two of them that often make me think belong to Stewie and The Lesley, who nominated him.

So, here's some other blogs that make me think:
1. Jintrinsique unplugged: The regular Jin just mostly makes me hungry. But unplugged, she raises some interesting points about life.
2. A French Girl in Niagara: As does Jewels, who beads in her "real" blog, then describes her life and interesting hobbies on her version of unplugged.
3. Fnordication: Fnordboy doesn't post often, but when he does, I usually have to Google something. I like learning new stuff.
4. Boobs, Injuries and Dr Pepper: OK, so this one usually makes me laugh more than think, but there are lot of life lessons mixed in with the humor.
5. Metro Reading: Now, I'm blatantly cheating, because Stewie writes this blog, too. But there aren't too many things that make me think like a good book, and we've got similar taste in books, which leads to some great discussions.

I'm not nominating the fiancee, because, well, it seems like even worse cheating than nominating back the guy who nominated you. If she didn't make me think, frankly, I wouldn't want to spend the rest of my life with her.

And, of course, the Rules:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

Now, on with the part where I earn my "thinking" award.

They recently announced the DVD release of a TV series called "Voyagers!"

"Voyagers!" was one of my favorite TV shows as a kid, even though it only lasted one season. Heck, I remember in elementary school, playing "Voyagers!" on the playground with my best friend, Justin.

He was Phineas Bogg, the time-traveling hero, and I was Jeffrey, the little kid who inadvertently accompanies him on his misadventures. The psychology of this relationship with J.T. - who I haven't seen in years and miss in some way almost every day - is a discussion for another post.

Bogg was played by the former model Jon-Erik Hexum, while Jeffrey was played by Meeno Peluce, who starred in "Don't Go Near the Park," a dreadful movie I reviewed for HorrorTalk.

The plot, if I recall correctly, went something like this:

Bogg was a Voyager, tasked with traveling through history to set things right that had gone wrong somehow. He had two tools: A device like a pocketwatch that enabled him to travel through time, and a history book.

He also had two problems. First, the device was malfunctioning, and second, he lost his book saving Jeffrey. Fortunately, Jeffrey was a history buff - and thus, they became a team. "Phineas Bogg," I would later discover, is a takeoff on Phileas Fogg, the hero of "Around the World in 80 Days."

Sadly, that wasn't the only thing I learned by being a "Voyagers!" fan. I also learned that pistols firing blanks can be lethal.

Jon-Erik Hexum went on to another TV show after "Voyagers!" got canceled, and at some point, on the set of the show, he was clowning around with a blank-pistol. He put it to his head, and pulled the trigger.

The wad (which seals the powder in the blank case) ejects from the barrel at force, which Hexum obviously didn't know. At point-blank range, it fractured his skull and drove the pieces of bone into his brain, a wound that quickly proved mortal. He was rendered brain-dead, in a coma, and his family finally pulled the plug.

And that's a strange, tough lesson to learn as a child, when one of your heroes dies. Doing something stupid.

But it's a lesson I've never forgotten. Rest in peace.

On a side note, I just want to point out that Rosie O'Donnell is about the only liberal I know who is so damn obnoxious, she can make me feel sorry for a Republican.

Especially poor lil' Elisabeth Hasselbeck, non-winner of "Survivor" and wife of a third-string quarterback.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Oh, for the love of munkee!

I hit a small, furry animal on the highway going home the other night. Splat.

Second confirmed roadkill.

I hit a raccoon on a backroad in the summer of '95, when I was commuting to work for the then-Williamsport Cubs, a minor-league team in the New York-Penn League, for which I was a summer intern. (This game took place that year.)

I was accused of hitting a bunny rabbit in the summer of 2000, but I think a jury might have acquitted. There was blood on the road, and what might have been fur, but there was no body. If there's no body, you must acquit, right?

This thing ran out in front of me so fast, I have no idea what it was. It was too low-slung to be a dog or cat, too small to be a deer - thank goodness - and not the right shape to be a child - double-thank-goodness.

I'm guessing possum.

Marisa hit a curb on the highway yesterday, so there's a lot of that sort of thing going around. Fortunately, she, like I, is fine. As is, like mine, her car.

I've been up for about 20 straight hours. I'm about to faceplant on the laptop.

But I got most of the freelance work I had to get done, done.

On the other hand, I'm completely delirious.

And I wanted to share.

Just delirious enough to ponder: Do you think sadistic drivers paint little animal pictures on their driver-side doors, the way old-time fighter pilots used to paint little enemy flags or bombs or whatever to represent their kills?

Maybe I should claim the bunny after all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

She said yes!

As of Sunday night, I am engaged!

After a small scavenger hunt that included most every room in my house, most every stuffed monkey in my possession and a few trips up and down the stairs, Marisa ended up on my back balcony, where I asked her to marry me.

As the title says, she said yes.

Which officially makes me the happiest munkee on the planet.

It was a good day. My first day engaged to her, my first day as the boss of my copy desk, the first day of the rest of my life.

I'm not a religious man, but I actually paused to thank God for the blessings in my life, something I don't do often enough, but do more often now that I have her, and truly know what it means to be blessed.

I always tell her she's the third-best thing that ever happened to me, because you have to understand the circumstances of my life. Getting out of Vietnam, and even better, being given to my parents, will always have to be No. 1 and No. 2, because without them, I would have nothing, and that includes her.

But there's nothing in my life since I was two months old that can top the way I feel every day I'm with her.

From our first date, when we talked for hours amid all the nervousness and evaluation, to the night we stayed up all night talking, to that scaredmunkee first kiss, to the first night we spent together, to the first time, well, nevermind that, but you get the point. My life changed.

I can't remember the last time I truly believed my life was good, and wasn't just talking myself into it. My life has been good since the day we met.

It probably seems sudden, after just three and a half months, but when you know in your heart and soul that something is so wonderful, and patience isn't your strong suit, you just can't wait.

So I couldn't wait. I know what I want. Who I want. For the rest of my life.

Evidently, she agrees. Because she said yes. And made me the happiest munkee alive. But I said that already.

Now, how to get a wedding cake imported from Wisconsin...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Tagged, food style

OK, damn it, I got tagged by Jin to do this survey.

The rules are simple. (Insert Tobin Bell voice: I just watched "Saw III.")

1. Add a direct link to your post below the name of the person who tagged you.
Include the city/state and country you’re in.

Nicole (Sydney, Australia)
velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia (London, England)
ML (Utah, USA)
Lotus (Toronto, Canada)
tanabata (Saitama, Japan)
Andi (Dallas [ish], Texas, United States)
Lulu (Chicago, Illinois, United States)
Chris (Boyne City, Michigan, United States)
AB (Cave Creek, Arizona, United States)
Johnny Yen (Chicago, Illinois, USA)
Bubs (Mt Prospect, Illinois, USA)
jintrinsique (Manitowoc, Wisconsin, USA)
Ace (Hillsborough, New Jersey, USA)

2. List out your top 5 favorite places to eat at your location.

3. Tag 5 other people (preferably from other countries/states) and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Here goes. Now, the rules say restaurants "in your location," so I'm going to stick with Jersey, rather than my five favorite restaurants anywhere, which might include Pennsylvania and other places. Plus, I'm going to skip places like Saladworks, the national chains that can afford their own advertising.

And Jin, you can't tell me copying all those f-ing links in the list wasn't a pain in the ass! How the hell do you do it?

Well, here goes! (In no particular order...)

1. Makeda, New Brunswick, N.J.: Ethiopian food, and the place I went on my first date with Marisa. Try the mushed-up lentil dish whose name I can never remember.
2. Old Man Rafferty's, Hillsborough, N.J.: A nice local chain version of the bar-and-grill variety, featuring fat sandwiches and many desserts. Big reubens and pastrami-on-ryes, etc.
3. Los Jalapenos, Hillsborough, N.J.: Real Mexican food made by real Mexicans, according to the menu (I couldn't find a Web site). They make great chilaquiles, and the tacos are the kind with radishes and cilantro, at only $2 each.
4. The restaurant formerly known as R.U.B. Hut, Manville, N.J.: The former maker of the best cheesesteaks in Hillsborough moved to Manville and went into BBQ. Expensive as hell, but oh-so-tasty. I get my ribs glazed.
5. Alfonso's, Hillsborough, N.J.: My local pizza joint, which is a nice little full-service Italian place. Pizza, spaghetti and meat sauce, calamari, the usual goodies.

And the tagging...

Um, Jewels already got tagged, and Jin tagged me, so it's not like I can come up with a lot of variety, here.

Marisa and The Lesley are here in Jersey. Stewie and Freak are in Maryland and Norman is moving somewhere.

Zoinks. I make no promises any of them will partake. But they're tagged!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An update!

Finally, an update that doesn't involve someone getting voted off a TV show...

Believe it or not, Carl Nafzger's horse, Street Sense, rallied from 19th place to win the Kentucky Derby!

Oh, and I got tagged, so watch for a survey and some random tagging soon!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Run for the Roses!

Today is Kentucky Derby day.

And I can never watch the greatest of all horse races without thinking of one of TV sports' greatest moments:

Trainer Carl Nafzger calling Unbridled's 1990 win for the horse's owner, Mrs. Frances Genter, all of 92 years old.

Nafzger was one of the first people miked on-air for a sporting event, and I remember watching the race, which was called very traditionally as Unbridled ran a come-from-behind win.

But after the race, the network showed a replay of Nafzger, who apparently had forgotten he was on-air, describing events for his elderly owner, who was visually impaired.

Describing isn't the right word. He was calling the race, and unlike today, when everybody's got a zoom lens on them and a wireless sound hook-up nearby, he wasn't thinking of fame, or reputation.

And so he made one of those unforgettable moments.

"He's taking the lead. He's gonna win. He's gonna win. He's gonna win. He's a winner! He's a winner! He's a winner, Mrs. Genter! You've won the Kentucky Derby, Mrs. Genter! I love you."

And he kissed this little old lady and the tears began.

She died just a couple of years later. And Unbridled died in 2001. But Nafzger's still training, and he's back in it this year, with Street Sense off Post No. 7.

I don't follow horse racing much - in fact, I pretty much follow it three times a year, the Triple Crown races.

But I was 15 years old that year, and it was something I never forgot.

I couldn't find a replay of Nafzger's "call," but I did find the race itself. Enjoy!

Speaking of reality TV...

... Paris Hilton is going to jail.

Now that would make a great reality-TV show.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Why I should watch more reality TV

Well, you know how I always say I'd watch "American Idol" if every episode ended in a fistfight between two contestants?

Turns out I should be watching a lot more reality TV. Specifically, "Survivor."

Last year, an Asian won!

And this year, there apparently was another Asian contestant, named...

...wait for it...


Unfortunately, he apparently has been eliminated. So I won't be able to join his MySpace fan club.

Pity. There aren't enough famous Mookies out there.

Just one, really.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Why I went ring shopping (the long version)

"Please, God, don't let him quote lyrics."
~ President Haney, "My Fellow Americans"

"Had you been there tonight,
you might know how it feels
to be struck to the bone
in a moment of breathless delight.

Had you been there tonight,
you might also have known
how your world may be changed
in just one burst of light,

and what was right seems wrong,
and what was wrong seems right..."

~ Marius, "Les Miserables"

I'm pretty sure back when I started dating Marisa I promised this wouldn't become a relationship blog. Because, after all, who wants that?

Trust me, I'm not so far removed from abject loneliness that I can't remember what it was like to gaze upon happy couples with something that falls between sheer bitterness and complete hatred.

But the thing is, in the three months since our first date - three months today - my entire life is changed.

And not just because I got the promotion I've been working toward for seven years today, effective in a few weeks. I don't even want to think about the stress that's going to add.

No, I'm talking about how my life has changed away from work.

Which in and of itself is a change. After all, when you have nothing waiting at home but some DVDs, beer and a stuffed monkey, there's really no reason to hustle out of the office at the end of the day.

Still, I had a pretty good life. Make good money, own my own house, had my nice set little routine. Everything just so. What I wanted, I bought, and put it exactly where I wanted it. The routine of an empty life trying to be filled.

For those just catching up, I was engaged once, a long time ago, from the time I was 19 1/2 to about 22. I believed in my heart and soul that I knew what love was, that I was one of the lucky ones who got a chance to know how it felt, even if things didn't quite go as I planned.

That was the memory that sometime between my 30th birthday and Feb. 3, I decided was probably enough to be some small comfort as I grew old alone, that guy at the office who people always whispered about behind his back: "He's such a nice guy. Wonder why he never got married?" "I heard somebody broke his heart." Etc.

I won't insult the memory of that love by saying it wasn't any such thing.

But over the past three months, I've found out that love has depths, levels, that go far beyond anything I ever imagined. Ever understood.

I was in love a second time, I think, back when I was 25. It also ended badly, and I suspect part of the reason - and most of the reason it ended badly was my fault - I suspect part of the reason was that I was gun-shy. Holding something back. Or maybe wanting so badly to believe, that my emotions were as out of control as the rest of my life back then. Or maybe just that my broken heart hadn't quite healed.

One three-month girlfriend in seven years, spiced with countless disastrous dates, changed all that.

In some ways, I went from a coward to a quitter. I drank my ass off at Mardi Gras a couple of weeks before my 30th birthday.

"29, you think I'd know better, living like a kid..."
~ Gin Blossoms, "29"

There I was, down in NOLA, God bless it, bleached-blonde spiked hair, shitfaced drunk, dancing with college girls and hitting on bartendrixes and just cherishing every touch, every bit of human (female) contact.

Because when I got home, in the midst of the movie and a vague case of clinical depression, somewhere along the way, I'd lost hope.

I often like to think, in my melodramatic way, that life is game. One I used to think I could win. And when I thought I couldn't, I'd change the victory conditions.

So love stopped being something that mattered. Because it was never going to come. I spent my money on toys and DVDs and video games and limited-edition horror fiction and prescription drugs to keep me sane.

And I found a quasi-happy medium. Life was good. Not great, not wonderful, but good. I could live with good. It beat bad. And on the nights I cried, alone in bed in the dark, thinking of my sins and karma and wondering where I'd gone so horribly wrong and if I deserved my fate... well, I lied to myself until I believed it was truth. I was going to be fine.

I had my best friend's kids to play with. It was what I'd settle for since I knew I would never have any of my own. I joked about my parents' desire for grandchildren, since I knew I would inevitably disappoint them.

I realized that I could add something to my list of fears: Being that old man who dies alone, and no one misses him, so the mail piles up until finally some bill collector kicks in the door and that's how they find him, mummified, still in front of the TV. Unwept, unloved.

I realize I'm rambling a bit, but I don't know if I can explain where I am without explaining how I got here. Hell, I don't know if I can explain it at all.

The point is, three months ago today, my life changed.

I may not have known it at the time. I was too busy being scared of opening up, being overanalytical about my body and hers, trying to remember if I'd told the damn joke on this date or one of the many Matches of the past.

But I met a girl. We'd talked on the phone and had a great laugh, and e-mailed every day, but this was a date. Meeting in person. Face to face.

Trying not to get those damn lentils on my shirt.

We talked so long they kicked us out of the restaurant. We talked at the bar until it got so loud we couldn't hear each other.

I got a second date, and that glimmer of hope. I went home and pondered and overthought and lied to myself in the dark. It went well, but first dates had gone well before.

I didn't know.

The second date, wasn't so good - turned out she wasn't feeling well - but I left it kicking myself and expecting bad news when I e-mailed my usual thank-you/prayer the next day.

But I got a third date, and still baffled by that, I went balls-out as far as showing off. I took her to the best restaurant I knew of in the area and figured I had nothing to lose but a bunch of money. I was tired of the dating game and, frankly, if this wasn't it, I was about ready to quit.

Heck, I was e-mailing another Match at the time, and couldn't even bring myself to ask her out to dinner.

The dinner went well. I walked her to her car, and we were chatting in the cold. And freezing. So I gritted my teeth and asked her back. I swore my intentions were anything but nefarious. I just didn't want to stop our conversation.

We talked all night. And I do mean all night. When I walked her to her car, again, it was something like five in the morning, and we'd barely touched. Just talked. And laughed.

And there, at the car, we kissed. Nervous as a fuckin' schoolboy, I. I don't know why. It's not like I never kissed a girl before.

I lied. I do know why, I think. I think it was because I never wanted to kiss somebody well in all my life. I never wanted a kiss to be perfect more.

I don't know why, exactly. I think I know, but I don't have the right words (me, a writer, hah!).

What I know is, I'll never forget that kiss as long as I live. Just a little kiss, there in the cool dawn. A little shy, maybe a little embarrassed that I'm out there kissing a girl on my street at that hour.

Just a little kiss. My first thought was that she had the softest lips I've ever felt. My second thought, well, that just went all to hell because...

My life changed.

Right there, on the street, in that wee hour of the morning.

I don't even know if I knew it at the time. You know what they say about that feeling in the bit of your stomach just turning out to be indigestion?

I was scared. Confused. Hopeful. All wrapped into one. That's a lot of emotions all at once. A lot of emotions I hadn't felt in a long time.

For years, I'd told myself I'd be cautious with my heart. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. I told myself I'd be prudent. Careful. I'd rushed into love twice and been hurt both times.

I swore so many times, alone in the dark, that it wouldn't happen again.

And it didn't.

Because I stopped believing in love at first whatever. "The one." All of those things I used to believe that got beaten out of me by fate, or whatever you want to call it.

Then it hit. Like a bolt of lightning. Love. And I never saw it coming.

I try to look back at three months and figure out when, exactly, I fell in love.

I'm going with that kiss. I don't know if that's the exact spot, because I don't know anymore what was me lying to myself and trying to protect myself from something in my head, and what was real and I just didn't let myself recognize it.

But I really think it happened somewhere along the way, not much later, when I wasn't alone in the dark anymore, but with someone.

With her.

I wrote something on my Match profile that said something about what I wanted most was to lie in bed, in the dark, and put my arms around someone and feel like home.

I don't know if that's a turn of the poet's phrase, a pathetic sort of honesty, or a Hallmark card waiting to happen.

But the damndest thing happened.

My wish came true.

I'm still scared. I'm scared I'll wake up. And it won't be real.

I'm not a religious man. But I pray every day now. I thank God because I'm not so sure I deserve this. But I dreamed of it, and it's here, and sometimes I think of all the things I've done, and all the nights I prayed for forgiveness, prayed for redemption, prayed for one-last-chance-and-I-swear-to-fucking-God-I-won't-blow-this-one-prettyplease.

I found love. In all of its wonder, all the wonder I thought I'd known only to find out I knew nothing of the sort.

And she's beautiful, and kind, and generous, and endearingly goofy and the most amazing thing is, she loves me, too. Every bit as much and more. I can see my future - ours - in her eyes.

I used to say that the best day of my life was the day I got engaged, because no matter what happened afterward, that day was wonderful. I meant it, too. Right up until somewhere around mid-March.

But I swear, it feels like there's a moment every day these days that's better than that. Because of her.

And trust me, I've (over)thought it all. Is it loneliness? Desperation? Has it been so long I'd forgotten? None of the above.

To hug her. To kiss her. Just to hear her voice on the telephone, brings a smile like you wouldn't believe. A feeling of comfort, safety, peace.

You could take everything else in my life, save my family and friends, and she'd be enough.

I used to say I'd seen the gates of heaven once. Once upon a time, that glimpse might've been enough.

But this time, I think they let me in. And I found an angel.

I think of her every moment we're not together. At least, that's the way it feels.

And when we are together?

The best of it is, I can put my arms around her in the dark, feel her body next to mine, feel her very soul wrap itself around mine to keep me warm, and it really does feel like home.

She's the best in my life.

I don't know what I did to deserve this, and I pray every day, please God, don't ever let this end.

Because sometimes, when we can't be together, I'm alone, but I can feel in my heart, in my soul, that I'll never be lonely again.

I'm in love. And I never want this feeling to end.


I never want to let Marisa go. Because it's not love that I'm in love with. It's her.

So that stupid look that's been fixed on my face for weeks? It's joy. Joy so great, I think my face doesn't quite remember how to make the right expression.

And that's the long version of why I went ring shopping.

Because I've found the woman I've waited my life for. I've found the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. I know it in my heart, my soul and everywhere in between. I'm not a boy anymore, I'm a man, and I know the difference between what's now and what was then.

So, 32 years after I left a war zone for the American Dream, I've found peace. I've found that dream, complete. I've found someone to share it with, too, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Thirty-two years of living, and my life climbed the ramp to perfect in about 14 weeks.

Three months ago today, my life changed forever. It's a great day. These days, in my life, every day's a great day.

Isn't that wild?

(* Disclaimer: I'm not writing this to show off or brag, I swear. I wish you all could feel the way I feel, if you don't already. I've just thought of it so much today that I can't help but write it down. Like if I don't let some of the joy out, I'll just burst from sheer happiness. Thanks for indulging me.

** Disclaimer 2: No, I haven't actually bought anything yet. Much less given anything. But I'm really enjoying looking. Mom.)