Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Year of Living Dangerously

Second marriages are tricky. According to the Internet, arguably the world’s most reliable source of accurate statistics and funny cat videos, second marriages have a divorce rate of 67%—making them even harder to pull off successfully than first marriages (50% divorce rate),  but a little less tricky to pull off than third marriages, which boast a whopping 73% divorce rate.

Unless you’ve experienced a second marriage, ideally with step-parenting duties, you can’t fully appreciate this statistic. But for us veterans, it’s totally clear: A second marriage requires laser-like focus, and by focus I mean double Martinis; it also requires a sense of humor. And by humor, I mean a perverse ability to stare tragedy in the face and say, “I own you. Just kidding. You own me. Now let’s go have a beer.”

On our second anniversary, my husband informed that he longed to go back to Kauai, where we honeymooned. I agreed with him, and suggested that we shoot for our five-year anniversary.

“No way. Eight. We’re going back for our eighth anniversary.”

“Huh? Why eight?”

“Eight’s the big one. Neither of us made it to eight the first time.”

By golly, my husband was right. Our first marriages ended at seven-ish. We had yet to reach eight years as husband and wife—with anyone.

“Makes sense to me. Eight it is. We’ve got this,” I said cheerily.

Fast forward five years to this past summer, when we celebrated our seventh anniversary. We spent it in a neighboring county, in a small town known for its plentiful supply of wine tasting establishments within walking distance of a decent hotel. Off we sped toward our destination on the morning of our anniversary. It was only an hour drive, but halfway there, I grew restless. I just couldn’t wait. I spied a rural, picturesque turnout. So what if it happened to also sell gas and from the looks of it, double as a meth support group hub.

Me: Pull over.

Husband: Huh?

Me: I can’t wait.

Husband: Here?

Me: Yes. I need to give it to you now so we can enjoy the drive.

Husband: Sweet!

Me: Here’s your present.

I handed him an envelope. It was a CD I put together of cool songs that remind me of us. I explained that I wanted to listen to it on the drive.

Me: Want to exchange cards now, too?

Husband: Suuuuure.

So we handed each other our cards, and smiled at the 50-something year old guy at the air/water station next to us, filling up the tires of his 1979 Pontiac Trans Am, the one with the bumper sticker that read, “Free mustache rides.”

 That’s when my husband dropped the seven-year truth bomb.

 “I’m really nervous.”

“Pre-wedding-night jitters?” I said coyly, batting my eyelashes, thinking we were about to do a little role-playing.

“No. As of today, the pressure is really on.”


“To make it to eight! We’ve got to make it through the next year!”

“Oh, right. I forgot,” I lied, not caring one bit about the silly number, but aware of the fact that my husband is a math guy. “We really need to be on our best behavior. We can’t take our eye off the ball!”

“We’ve got to stay diligent, babe. Think twice before going to the mall,” my husband said.

“Think twice before switching to football on a quiet Sunday morning when the children are all gone, hun,” I said.

“Think twice before leaving all the lights burning all over the house, sweetheart,” he said.

“Think twice before—.” Wait a second. What were we doing? 

We were playing right into the statistics’ hands, that’s what!

So there we sat, listening to a bad-ass biker chick pound on the door of the men’s room hollering for Earl to poop or get off the pot, reading our cards, realizing how important it was for us to let the little things go, and enjoying the homemade CD.

Later that night, at a quiet, candlelit table, I thought about how compatible we actually were. Like our small wedding in a city park, today’s card exchange wasn’t about the venue, it was about us, and the decision we made to willingly take on the already fully-formed and not always pretty portions of each other’s lives, which included children and aging parents and parenting schedules and mid-life insecurities and a host of other opportunities to grow as human beings. As I gazed lovingly at my husband as he licked the side of his wine glass to catch a stray drop sliding downward, I didn’t even flinch. I recalled how my husband refrained from chastising me earlier in the day for not once remembering which way to turn, up the street or down the street, when we exited a wine bar—which numbered in the double digits. No snarky comments, just a tug on the back of my collar and we were back on track.

And that’s why some second marriages do beat the odds—because the participants realize there are so many big things staring the players in the face they have no choice but to let the little things go, and definitely not scoff at mini-marts as romantic destinations.

Kauai, here we come!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Serbian Christmas, Deconstructed

On Tuesday, January 7, to the delight of some and dismay of others, the full, half- and quarter- breed (slivers of Serbs, or SOSs) descendants of Serbian immigrants to Amador County celebrated the other Christmas Day, complete with shotgun (blanks) announcements of the impending arrival at local Serbian “open house” parties, singing, the sipping of refined Serbian beverages, and for some, church.

Personally, I had a short run of about six years when I accompanied my elderly great aunt (Tete), a Total Serb (TS), to Christmas Eve service during the last several years of her life. My Tete’s sister, my Baba (grandmother), on the other hand, had no use for church. I never bothered to find out why. Personally, I suspect it was like a few other things in her life, from her pot roast to her lemon pies to her 62-year marriage to my Djedo: we didn’t always understand how things worked; they just did.

On Serbian Christmas, if you were anywhere in the vicinity of North Main and downtown Jackson in the early afternoon, you likely saw a long line of cars snaking along, stopping every so often to blast off a few black powder blanks. Of course, blanks can hurt people too, which is why you may have heard someone yelling, “Cesti ti Bozic!” which is Serbian for, “Knock it off you crazy Serb!”

After a few stops that usually serve to both entertain and annoy passers-by, the procession came to a rest at a handful (okay, two) of open houses parties hosted by local SOSs, for local and visiting Serbs, plus a whole lot of Serbian wanna-bes who are looking for any excuse to skip work. On the doorsteps of these homes was a spattering of coins, left during the night by the local Serbian Santa, promoting a long-standing Serbian tradition of giving, and thievery.

I was lucky enough to be born to the son of a TS, and my quarter-Serb status gained my entry to some of these open house parties, back when my grandparents and their friends were still in their swinging 50s, and I was a mere teenager. I picked up on the fact that the old folks could still rock it. I may have also picked up a screwdriver now and then, but who’s carding? Turns out, nobody was back then.

The shooting rituals that take place can be traced back to the old country, when one household would shoot off guns, alerting another household, on the next hillside, that they were either ready to receive guests, or offing their cousin for stealing the Yule Log. Of course, now we have cell phones to do this job, but how fun is that? Bottom line, neighbors of Serbs are among the most patient and forgiving people in the world.

For the record, I don’t own a gun, but on Serb Christmas I’ve got no problem borrowing one and shooting a few blanks. Who doesn’t? (Well, a few people I know, including my husband, but he gives me a long leash on Serb Christmas. As evidenced a few years ago when he politely suggested that perhaps it wasn’t exactly on his list of favorite things to look across the room and see the arm of a slobbering SOS (or was that an SOB?) draped across my shoulders like a blanket. It was harmless, I assure you, until an hour later when the same SOB accidentally caught my son’s cheekbone with his fist during a little three-teenage-boys-on-one-grown-man wrestling match.) Yes, Serbian Christmas is just one of those magical times when it makes sense to let it all hang out. Or, it makes no sense at all, but people still do. With a little help from Brother Slivo, one (liquid) shot at a time, grievances can be aired, repaired or deepened; if it’s the latter, just remember that it isn’t a knife fight you’re going to.

The point is this: The cultural traditions that we kids and grandkids of Total Serbs choose to partake in mean something to us. They connect us to another dimension of our loved ones—their long gone, but not forgotten big personalities— which often matched their big Serb feet. Even the quieter among them may have blossomed on that one day a year. I’ve seen the grainy reel-to-reel films, in which faithful, churchgoing Total Serbs of yore could occasionally be seen with a hand on the wrong -ich’s butt at the last house party of the evening, or within the hallowed walls of the old Wells Fargo Club. The cultural traditions, cherry-picked as they may be, remind us that one day a year, we are one, be it TS, SOS or even SOB.

In fact, I suspect that some of the Total Serbs that we SOSs were raised by and among may have over-indulged in the midnight coin-throwing, gun-toting rituals they witnessed as children for the same reason we do—because it makes us feel closer to our own, long-dead loved ones. We don’t all go to church on Serbian Christmas, but that makes us no less Serbian (and for most you can’t be any less), and no less connected to our ancestors. There’s nothing new about a flock whose members aren’t always headed in the same direction. Sometimes they even bump into each other and fall down.

I guess it’s finally time to take down those decorations, but not before a final “Cesti ti Bozic” (Merry Christmas) and a song from the Serbs who know the words to the traditional Serbian song thanking the host of an open house party. My husband, who was there in spirit, caught up to us later when he got off work.