Richard and Uncle D brought my father-in-law, Howard Leslie Korengold, aka Papa Howie, back home from Florida. He’s in good health (poo, poo, poo a million times) and is living in an apartment in a retirement community nearby.
Did you catch that his middle name is “Leslie?” But wait! There’s more! My mother-in-law (may she rest in peace) was Harriet, which is my mother’s middle name. My nephew is Joseph Maurice; Richard’s grandfather was Maurice Joseph. It’s all very Lincoln/Kennedy, but I digress.
Papa Howie has been mailing me his hand-written memoirs for years, and refers to me as his “Literary Agent.” I am honored that he trusts me, the most disorganized person in the world, with the only copy of his stories.
Howard is a creative and brilliant man. For instance, after Richard and I became engaged, Howard said, “If Richard hadn’t proposed, I would have.” See what I mean? He’s brilliant!
To celebrate his return home, I’d like to share a book he wrote and illustrated many years ago called “Harriet’s Symphonette.”
Richard was greeted at my parents’ front door by the sounds of moaning ghosts, chains being dragged across a wood floor, and door hinges in desperate need of WD-40.
Earlier that evening I’d hidden a tape recorder underneath bushes I’d covered with nylon spider webs. I’d left only one dim outside light on so Richard could safely make his way to the front door where I had posted a sign that read, “Enter if you Dare!” Just before he was due to arrive, I ran outside and hit “play” on the tape recorder. I could barely contain my excitement about all the fun things I’d planned for the evening.
As a copywriter for the Sears Catalog I had friends in strange places who could procure just about any prop ever needed. A mannequin head and hand? No problem. You just had to know who to ask for the body part required.
As I opened the door to let Richard in, I could’t help but notice the look of irritation and annoyance on his face from the scary sounds and poorly lit walkway. That should have been my first clue that my plan to enchant him that evening was not going to work, but it didn’t stop me. I closed the door and turned around to face him. Just as he was about to give me a “hello” kiss, I smiled, revealing bloody, wax vampire fangs. He was not amused, and I did not receive a kiss. At least the fangs were cherry-flavored.
Subtlety has never been one of Richard’s gifts. By the time I had bared my wax vampire teeth, he had shown facial expressions of disdain, displeasure, and disgust. I knew the rest of the evening I had been so eager to plan was going to be arduous for him, and a total disappointment for me.
I led my very unhappy, exasperated guest/victim into the kitchen where I had set the table for the two of us, as I had many times before. There were no visible tricks or treats which elicited a sigh of relief from Richard as he sat down at the table.
For the first course, I served pasta with extremely red marinara sauce. In an effort to create bloody looking spaghetti, I had added red food coloring and then squished whole tomatoes into the sauce with my sterilized, sanitized, and squeaky clean hands. Since Richard’s head was already spinning, the worst surprise would have been to give him food poisoning.
As soon as I had set the pasta on the table, I said, “Oops! I forgot the garlic bread!” I had covered the basket of bread with a kitchen towel “to keep it warm.” When he removed the towel, a perfectly manicured mannequin hand was holding a piece of garlic bread, as if offering it to Richard.
Who wouldn’t think that was a clever way to serve the bread? I’ll give you one guess.
I began to lose hope and started to panic just a tad. My brain started screaming, “It’s not too late! Go to Barnaby’s! Order Dominos! For Satan’s sake, go to Burger King! Whatever you do, turn back now! Grab your purse and Richard and get out while you still can!”
But I didn’t do that. I had gone to great lengths to plan this dinner as a way to show him how playful and creative I could be. I’d decided If he didn’t appreciate that side of me, I could still have fun, couldn’t I? Or was I leading myself into a den of humiliation and torture? I was leading myself into a den of humiliation and torture.
Knowing the next course could be the end of our relationship, I just had to hope for the best. I donned oven mitts and pulled a large black covered roasting pan out of the oven and set it on a trivet on the table. It wasn’t hot, but I wanted to provide the illusion that it was. Most people would remove the top part of the roaster to reveal a delicious-looking turkey or ham. I removed the top to reveal an upside down mannequin head full of salsa surrounded by tortilla chips.
Richard had told me many times that he didn’t like surprises, but I didn’t think serving a scary Halloween dinner met that criterion. As his girlfriend, I thought any clever, creative ideas I had up my Norma Kamali shoulder-padded sleeves would be seen as a way of creating a fun and memorable evening. I thought it was fun; he thought it was memorable, but not in a good way.
I don’t remember much more about what I served that night because the evening turned out not to be much of a “treat” for either one of us.
Richard, always a gentleman, thanked me for dinner and then sprinted out to his red 1974 Plymouth Duster. I heard his tires squeal as he made his escape.
The only good thing about the evening was that there wasn’t much for me to clean. All I had to do was put a few dishes in the dishwasher, and wash and dry the mannequin parts so I could return them to their owners at work the following day.
In December of that year Richard invited me to his parents’ house for a special dinner he’d prepared just for the two of us. The photo below kind of sums up how different we are; the trick is to make it work which we have for 32 years and counting.
Richard and me through the years:
Last year: I was Bruce Jenner and Richard was Caitlyn. Our friends Steve and Juliet were Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. We were at Michael and Sara’s who have a year-round haunted house in their basement that I’ve been told is the scariest haunted house ever. I’ve never had the guts to go through it, but I’ve heard the screams.
So, here’s the deal about the note and RV ornament I received from Richard.
We had just moved into our first house with a 4 year old, a 9 month old, a cat, a dog, a snake named “Buddy,” and a goldfish named “Twirly Norman.”
Unopened boxes in every room served as furniture. We were all exhausted.
And that’s when Richard announced he had to travel to New York for business.
I wasn’t happy he was going to leave me alone with mountains of unopened boxes labeled “misc,” two small children, and half of Noah’s Ark, but business is business.
Until it isn’t.
After letting me know he was going to New York Richard said, “Ya know, I really could use a break. Since Atlantic City is so close to New York, I think I’ll extend my trip a few days and spend a little time there. Whatta you think?”
Whatta’d I think? I thought a lot of things. None of them were nice.
“No, I don’t mind,” I thought to myself. “Of course you deserve a break. I don’t. But you do. Go. Go, Oh Wonderful Husband of mine. Go. Enjoy yourself. Don’t even think about the kids and me.”
After retrieving my jaw from a box labeled “Dumbbells, and Other Assorted Crap” I said, “Look. You decide what to do. I’m sure if you think about it long and hard enough you’ll do the right thing.”
So, Richard went to Atlantic City for five days after a short meeting in New York.
He came home looking relaxed and happy.
I looked disheveled and displeased.
Richard tried to show remorse, but it’s not in his DNA. However, as a peace offering, he gave me the note in which he kinda, sorta, promised never to leave me alone again to go to Atlantic City, and a cute little ornament of the RV he’d be living in if he did.