So, there I was, pretending to clean the rear quarters of a fiberglass giraffe for the upteenth time in the past hour. I had just struck out again in my quest to find suitable female companionship for the evening; but little did I know that fate was about to slip me an ace which would change my life forever.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I would recount how my wife and I first met. It was the summer of ’87, and a golden time to be young. Rap music still rhymed, and no one had heard of grunge yet. I was twenty-one and working a summer job at Cedar Point, an amusement park in northern Ohio. My assigned duty was as a loader on Sky Ride, the ski-lift style buckets that rode in a perpetual loop over the Midway. On this day, however, the prevailing winds off Lake Erie made it unsafe for operation. Generally, instead of sending the ride crew home, the park would assign us little odd jobs to do until the gusts died down. This time we were sent out to Kiddie Land armed with rags and a spray bottle with the instructions to clean all the animal sculptures in the area. It wasn’t long before I noticed that the ride operators, who were all college-aged women, rotated every fifteen minutes to a different post. I’m sure this was to done to promote safety by reducing complacency through boredom, but it served my purposes as well. You see, I was standing with one of my buddies and had just made a bet that I could get a girl to agree to go out with me that night. I figured I had a quarter hour to lay down my best lines, and if I came up empty: no worries since the next eligible contestant was just a few ticks of the clock away. The best part was I didn’t even have to move. I was like a grizzly bear in a stream, just waiting for the right salmon to swim on by.
As brilliant as I considered my plan to be, I must admit it started out a little shaky. The first two candidates claimed to have boyfriends, and the third just wasn’t having any of my light-hearted patter. My buddy was beginning to exhibit doubts in my skills as a Lothario, so I knew I needed to step up my game. And that’s when she rotated to my position. In a glance, I knew I had out-punted my coverage.
She was beautiful.
In an attempt to appear suave, I glanced at her name tag before opening with, “Hey, Kim. What up?” Evidently, she knew this game because she gave my name tag a cursory once over before replying, “Hey, Jason. Not much.” Enough with the chit-chat, I thought, time’s a-wasting. I retorted with this gem.
“What are you doing tonight?”
“Going out to Louies with my friends.” Louies was a nearby bar. Bars meant loud noise and drunken crowds, neither of which I have ever found conducive to getting to know someone better.
“No, no, no. That’s not what you want to do. Let’s go out for dinner. You and me. Like human beings. We can talk, have fun, and if it doesn’t work out, you can always go meet your friends later on.” I gave her what I hoped was a winning smile, but I was so distracted by how cute she was I may have had my finger in one ear and spittle on my chin for all I knew.
She gave a little giggle before answering, “Okay.” I got her address and spent the rest of my shift openly staring at her. I picked her up that evening, and we went to a little Mexican chain restaurant called Chi-Chi’s. Soon, it became clear I possessed two of the most important traits her parents wanted in any potential suitor: I went to Michigan State and was a Roman Catholic. One snippet of conversation I do remember dealt with a topic I’m sure appeared a little premature for a first date. Because of how I already felt about her, it was not a point I wanted to be surprised about later on down the road. As such, I broached it with my usual subtlety.
“Let’s say, sometime in the future, we were to get married and have a son. Can I name him ‘Jack’?” I had always wanted a boy named after my favorite actor, Jack Nicholson. Not knowing how to respond to such a query and understandably somewhat confused, she replied, “Sure.” That sealed the deal. The rest of the evening was magical. The words just flowed between us so easily that I never noticed how much time had gone by until they kicked us out at closing time. I drove her home, and we exchanged a warm handshake outside her door. She told me she had had a great time that night, and I knew we would meet again. In fact, when I got back to my dormitory, my roommate asked me how my date had gone. I told him, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
And three years later to the day, I did.
Within days of the wedding, we pulled up our stakes, loaded up all our possessions into a Ford Escort, and moved out to California to begin our life together as man and wife. It would be another five years before we welcomed our first child. As you no doubt have already guessed, it was a son… named Jack.