Al DeLuise got engaged on October 9th, 1987. Ten-Nine-Eight-Seven. And the countdown began.
I remember the day I got engaged. It was Friday, October 9th, 1987. Ten-Nine-Eight-Seven. It was also the day I was promoted at work. My soon-to-be-fiancé Arlene and I opened a bottle of champagne for the promotion and while we sipped our glasses on the couch I thought ‘what the hell’. I went into the bedroom, retrieved the engagement ring from my sock draw, got down on one knee, and asked Arlene to marry me. She said yes (damn).
We were going to Boston the next day, to a bed-and-breakfast, and I planned to ask her then but this moment seemed right. After she said yes, we went to our friends Barb and Phil’s house. With more champagne consumed, we all behaved the way people are supposed to when hearing good news from friends, we laughed and cheered and our friends congratulated us.
Saturday morning we headed to Boston. We planned the trip to see the foliage change; it was a beautiful drive. It took about five hours; I drove the whole way there. I had never stayed in a bed-and-breakfast before and looked forward to the quaint old house I had envisioned from years of romantic movies. There would be a wrap-around porch and wicker chairs where we would sit and sip white wine and watch the leaves scurry across the lawn playful as children.
So I was not prepared when we pulled up to a four-story apartment building wedged between a series of four-story apartment buildings just outside of Boston. Apparently, Arlene had been fooled as I was that all bed-and-breakfasts were built by central casting.
We walked up to the entrance and rang the bell. The door opened and we came face-to-face with The Tall Man from Phantasm, all yellow teeth and eyes with two-day growth of beard and white hair that swam across the top of his head. We asked if we were in the right place (we were) and then entered the building. We followed him up the staircase. If this was a movie it would be now that the audience gasps then yells at the screen, “For the love of God, get out of there!”
We stopped on the third floor, and he opened a door and motioned for us to step inside. I knew at the moment that he had hidden cameras throughout the house and made his money by filming young couples who came up to see the foliage. It was a small room with a single bed and dresser and childish wallpaper filled with extremely happy clowns. Arlene and I had not even exchanged a word at this point, dumbfounded by our circumstances. We were still willing to tough it out, but what happened next was a deal breaker.
I stepped over to the bathroom and noticed there was a wooden door you would slide closed for privacy. So I slid it closed, and the closet suddenly appeared to my right. The bathroom door and the closet door were in fact the same door. It winked at us at is seesawed between the two openings.
“Ok,” I said, “we’re going to go now.”
That was fine with him as he then explained that we would never find another room anywhere in the city and that if we left he’d have this place rented ‘within five minutes’.
We thanked him, made arrangements to have our money returned, and left.
For the next three hours we drove all over Boston looking for a room. The Tall Man was right; there was nothing to be had. We finally swallowed our pride and returned to the four-story apartment building only to find another couple thankfully handing over a check and wondering aloud what idiots would give up this room at the height of the season.
“There’s nothing out there,” they giggled then ran up the steps toward their bedroom-bathroom-closet. The Tall Man’s yellow teeth waved good-bye to us as he closed the door in our faces.
We decided that we would start to head home; hopefully we’d find a hotel close enough so we could salvage some sight-seeing the next day. About three hours into the trip we did find a motel with a vacancy sign. It was a few miles off the main highway, surrounded by woods, with only two or three cars in the parking lot. All I could think of was Psycho and I wasn’t going to stick around to see if Norman Bates could put us up for the night. I went back to the highway and we headed home.
I pulled into our driveway about ten o’clock that night. I drove to Boston, around Boston, and back from Boston all in one day.
I was exhausted. I went into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. I stared ahead and it looked like the walls were breathing. I fell back, but was too tired to sleep. This was a horrible day.
The funny thing is, as I look back on that weekend now, this would be considered the good day.
We had been to Boston and back in one day, but who knew the tougher trip would be the quarter-mile walk to Arlene’s mother’s house.
In her mother’s house we were greeted by Arlene’s oldest sister, Andrea, who sat at the kitchen table. Her constant companions, coffee and cigarettes, were perched faithfully by her side.
“Congratulations,” she said.
“For what,” I replied, not sure if her congratulations were for the engagement or the promotion.
“Your promotion,” she clarified.
“What about the engagement?” I asked, and that’s when she lit the fuse.
Andrea rolled her eyes.
Before I could ask for an explanation another one of Arlene’s older sisters, Joanne, stepped into the house. Andrea might have lit the fuse, but it turned out that Joanne was the bomb.
For the next three hours the living room was a battle zone. I was repeatedly told that marriage was not a good idea. I tried to decipher why, but Joanne was vague in her comments. I didn’t understand any of this. Up until this point no one in her family gave any indication that they disapproved of our relationship. I had even shown the ring to Joanne the week before, and she was all smiles about the idea of marriage. I found out later, that wasn’t the case.
“That explains it,” Arlene told me later.
Apparently for the entire week after showing Joanne the ring, and before actually proposing, Joanne had done her best to talk Arlene into breaking up with me.
The battle continued. At some point, I’m not even sure when, Arlene left the house in tears, but I wasn’t about to give any ground.
Then the fog suddenly cleared. I was told I didn’t have nice clothes until I met Arlene. I didn’t have a nice house until I met Arlene. I didn’t have a nice car until I met Arlene.
“Wait a minute,” I said, “do you think I’m marrying Arlene for her money?”
To this day, the irony behind that remark makes me laugh. For the ten years we were married, every bonus check and every tax refund went to pay off credit cards – credit cards that Arlene had maxed out. I would look around the house and ask, “where did the money go?’ Did we buy Faberge Eggs? Are they in the attic? Take them out so our guests can enjoy them.” Money poured through Arlene like water through a hose.
I didn’t win any arguments that day; eventually I just left. A year later, Arlene and I were married. Ten years and three kids after that we were separated, and then divorced. Arlene and I still get along very well. Amazingly, I frequently see her sisters all the time at family events and no blood has been shed (yet).
If there is one thing I’ve learned from this experience it’s this: if the date you get engaged sounds like a countdown, the universe is trying to tell you something. Just shut up and listen.
—Originally appeared on Al blogs at conflictandscotch.com Photo: PT Money